Multiple fires make a busy week for the Paris Fire Department

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An unusual spate of structure fires this past week has resulted in significant damage and heroic action by one family pet.

The dog is credited with waking a couple while their house was burning at 504 Milton Street.

“When we got there the smoke detectors were active,” said Paris Fire Chief Brian Gates. The fire department was dispatched at 6:16 a.m. Aug. 3.

The couple occupying the house was not awakened by the alarms. Gates said the male occupant was awakened by the dog frantically jumping on and off the bed.

“When he sat up to see what was the matter with the dog his head went into the smoke,” said Gates.

The couple got out of the house, but the dog collapsed while exiting and the man carried the animal out. The owner told Gates the dog was breathing but still did not seem right. Firefighters retrieved an animal oxygen mask from one of the trucks and the Horizon Health Ambulance crew used the mask to administer oxygen to the dog.

“It’s my understanding the wife spent a couple of days in the hospital for smoke inhalation, and the dog is doing OK,” Gates said.

The chief credited the dog with saving its owners lives.

“If the dog had not woken them up, there is a good chance we would have had two deceased persons in that house even though there were working detectors,” said Gates.

The back half of the house and garage area sustained heavy fire damage with heat and smoke damage through the rest of the building. It is not a suspicious fire and everything points to an electrical origin.

Gates said it appears the fire started with an extension cord that provided power to a hot tub.

A second early morning fire at 12:57 a.m. Aug. 7 at 312 East Court is regarded as highly suspicious and is under joint investigation by the fire department, the Paris Police Department and the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s office.

Gates declined to comment about the fire except to confirm it is suspicious, and it destroyed a two-story building that was originally a carriage house on the property. The carriage house was converted to a garage and the fire destroyed the building and its contents, damaged two vehicles and the blaze was intense enough to melt the siding on the residence at the location.

Firefighters encounter many unusual situations and one of the more odd cases was at 11:48 a.m. Aug. 8 when they went to a reported fire at 412 Douglas. Gates described the structure as a two-story apartment building with four units. The exterior deck of an upstairs apartment was burning when firefighters got on scene.

The fire damaged a section of the deck boards, melted siding and some smoke damage occurred to the interior of the apartment from smoke entering the eaves and getting into the attic space.

After the fire was out and the investigation started is when things started getting a bit unusual. It was apparent the fire originated around a small hibachi style grill.

“When I lifted the lid to the grill there was a Ouija board with very little fire damage,” said Gates.

It is not known why, but the female occupant of the apartment was trying to burn the Ouija board. Gates did not deal directly with the female but did see her being led away in handcuffs by the police.

According to the police report, Kylee J. Beaven, 32, was arrested at the scene and charged with obstructing a peace officer.

Gates was frustrated by Beaven’s callous action.

“Whether it was intentional or an accident, there were three other families living there, and they were put at risk, including children and a newborn,” said Gates.

According to Gates, it has been a strange summer for the department with numerous arson fires. In recent weeks, five people, including at least one juvenile, have been arrested for arson.

He added more arrests are anticipated as the investigation into two more suspicious fires continue.

“One thing that has helped us a lot is so many homes have security cameras now,” said Gates.

Security cameras at Fastenal, 516 East Jasper, provided vital evidence showing juveniles packing an old refrigerator with cardboard boxes and setting it on fire behind the store. One arrest has been made and authorities are looking for the others involved.

“What they didn’t know is on the other side of the wall from the fire were several 55-gallon drums of chemicals the store sells to its customers,” said Gates, noting a major incident would have resulted if the fire breached the exterior wall and ignited the drums.

The fire department’s mission is to keep small fires from expanding into bigger blazes and Gates praised the turnout of the department’s firefighters and the support of the other stations in the Paris Fire Protection District for making that possible.

“I’m very pleased with the good internal cooperation between the departments (fire and police) for investigating suspicious fires,” Gates said.