Lafayette Fire Chief Keith Scruggs said the insert was connected to a stainless steel triple-wall flue pipe. The pipe apparently became unattached from the fireplace insert appliance, and the area directly behind it caught fire.
“It's a 19th century house with balloon framing, so the fire shot straight up into the attic,” explained Scruggs. “Balloon framing” is an antiquated 18th and 19th century house framing technique in which the 2x4 framing members extend the full height of a two story structure, allowing a fire starting in a first floor wall cavity to quickly spread upward. The style of frame house building was discontinued when this hazardous feature was found to contribute to the quick spread of a fire originating on a first floor, to the second floor and on into an attic.
The situation facing firefighters at the Meador's house was made more difficult by the fact that the beaded poplar ceiling in the attic had been sheeted with plywood, and then covered...with drywall. Firefighters had to cut through the three layers of ceiling with chainsaws to gain access to the area above which was fully engulfed in flames. Early on in its progress the fire briefly shot through the metal shingled roof, and it appeared the fire would soon become completely out of control and destroy the entire structure.
However, once firefighters from Lafayette and Willette gained access to the upstairs through a second story window on the east side of the house, and then cut into the attic above, they pumped a continuous flow of water into the blazing area, eventually gaining the upper hand on the flames shooting through the metal shingle roof and from the south gable end of the large, 150 year old frame dwelling.
A fire hydrant just a short distance from the house, directly below the Dr. A.Y. Kirby Memorial water tower, allowed firefighters to quickly refill 2,600 gallon tankers, allowing them to keep a continuous flow of water streaming into the inferno in the attic of the house.
“The house was by no means ‘totaled',” stated LFD Chief Scruggs. “The downstairs sustained very little damage beyond a little smoke and a lot of water.” Many of the Meador's belongings, including many pieces of antique furniture, were removed from the house by volunteers and firefighters who answered the first fire call.
“We used every ‘salvage cover' the fire department has, and what wasn't packed out of the house downstairs was covered,” said Scruggs.
The fire was brought completely under control about 90 minutes after it broke out. Firefighter from both Willette and Lafayette remained on the scene for about three hours.
THE HISTORY OF THE HOUSE goes back to antebellum days (before the American Civil War of 1861-65), said to be originally the home of one Thomas J. Wakefield. The house Wakefield built in the early 1850's burned in 1867, and the current structure was built back on the original site in that year, making it the oldest frame dwelling in Macon County. (A brick house, owned by Hugh and Janice Morrison, and located on Old Hwy. 52 in western Macon County is the oldest house in the county, dating from the 1840's).
The Wakefield house became the property of Doctor A.Y. Kirby early in the twentieth century, and Dr. Kirby practiced medicine from a small brick clinic on the east side of the driveway and sitting next to the fine two-story 19th century house, which has long been know as “The old Doctor Kirby home.”
It has been owned for the last several years by Mr. E.C. Meador, a well-know and respected Church of Christ minister. While understandably upset by the loss and damage to many of their belongings, the Meadors expressed gratitude to firefighters for their professional efforts which apparently saved a valuable piece of Macon County history and heritage from what appeared at first to be a fate of certain destruction.