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Geronimo Drive fires have authorities scratching their heads

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rhonda Mahan was feeling on edge Monday after separate fires damaged three of the six townhouses in her building in a 30-hour time span.

Mahan, who lives at 59 Geronimo Drive in the Indian Head subdivision outside St. Albans, spent time Monday moving irreplaceable keepsakes and family records to a safe location out of her home.

"You're sitting here waiting to smell smoke," she said. "It's one right after another and no one can tell us why. We just have to wait.

"You don't know what to do. You can't leave; you have to stay," she said.  

Local authorities suspect electrical issues caused the fires but aren't sure. Kanawha County Fire Coordinator C.W. Sigman was hoping officials at the state Fire Marshal's Office could shed some light on the situation.

Sigman could only speculate on the fires. He said the situation is strange, something he's never seen before.

"Our preliminary investigation is it looks like all the fires started right where the wiring runs through the stud in the wall," Sigman said. "The one (Sunday) morning started in the exact same spot as the one (Monday) morning. The last one started in a stud in the wall on the second floor."  

"There's no evidence of the wiring being bad; it doesn't look like frayed cable," Sigman said. "But to have it happen at two identical spots almost, your gut feeling tells you something else is wrong. Something out there tells you something else is going on."

The first fire broke out Sunday morning at 57 Geronimo Drive. Inside were a young mother, her two children and her niece. The fire alarm awoke the four and they were able to get out safely.

A second fire was reported at 5:48 a.m. Monday at 49 Geronimo Drive. Sigman said the smoke detector alerted the elderly woman inside and she was able to get out.

Fire broke out again at 11 a.m. Monday in 53 Geronimo Drive. The townhouse is under renovation and was empty, Sigman said.

The fire got up into the attic and firefighters, who responded from West Side, Tornado, St. Albans and Lakewood, were forced to cut into the roof to battle the blaze.

While the findings in each case were similar, authorities are still puzzled as to the exact cause.

"I think there's something out there that's causing either too much power or some other issue is going on," Sigman said. "What's different about (Sunday) morning that was different about Saturday morning? That's why we need the experts in here.

"We're going to leave it to the Fire Marshal's office to come in and tell us what's happening. We want someone with expertise to tell us what's causing it.

"We might find out it's something else entirely."  

He said the first two cases illustrate the importance of smoke detectors. He was thankful no injuries were reported in any of the fires.

Sigman said the last fire caused more damage but all of the homeowners had insurance.

The townhouses were constructed in the mid to late 1970s. Sigman said firefighters responded to a fire at the subdivision in September "in the wee hours of the morning."

"That one was also an electrical issue," he said.

The three remaining townhouses, including Mahan's, are all occupied. Sigman said he didn't have the authority to tell the residents to leave but they should be aware of the danger.

Sigman said the State Fire Marshal's office has the authority to tell the residents to leave.

Phil Moye, Appalachian Power spokesman, wasn't aware of any investigations at the subdivision but said the company frequently works with the State Fire Marshal's office in investigations involving electrical matters.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.



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