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Families survey loss from fire
Lincoln Journal Star Article
July 6, 2006


Families survey loss from fire
By CLARENCE MABIN / Lincoln Journal Star

Abby Thompson and her boyfriend salvaged what they could from their smoke- and water-damaged apartment Wednesday, one day after a stray firework ignited a devastating blaze at the house at 1511 D St.

Thompson, 27, and her boyfriend, Joe Drummond, 31, found little in the water-logged basement apartment worth saving.

“We lost our clothes, we have no money,” said Thompson, a waitress. “We lost everything ... It’s back to square one.”

Thompson and her one child, and Drummond and his two children were at Thompson’s mother’s celebrating July 4 when the fire began around 8 p.m.

“Thank God we weren’t home at the time,” Drummond said.

Witnesses said a 7-year-old boy, who was being supervised by his mother, both of whom were first-floor residents, lit the firework that started the fire.

Lincoln Fire Investigator Ken Hilger said Wednesday someone had placed the firework, similar to a Roman Candle, on plywood so it would fire from a level surface. The boy lit it and stepped off the plywood, causing it to fire toward the house, Hilger said.

Some of the projectiles ignited dry leaves under the front porch, and the fire spread into the front part of the house, sectioned into seven apartments.

Total loss from the fire was estimated at $330,000.

Drummond said he could not understand why the 7-year-old’s parents let him light the firework.

“I don’t see why they let a little (7-year-old) do the firework,” he said.

The boy’s mother, Kerry Rupe, said the accident would have happened regardless of who lighted the firework. She said she attempted to douse the fire under the porch with a water bottle.

“There was no hose,” she said. “I squirted it (the fire) with the water bottle, but it was too late.”

Rupe said she grabbed her two sons and ran into the street, yelling, “Fire, fire.” A neighbor dialed 911.

Like most, if not all, of the residents, Rupe did not have renter’s insurance.

“Everything is lost,” said Rupe, who turns 30 today. “I’ll just have to start over … Happy birthday, huh.”

Aaron Newcomb, 19, was cooking in his third-floor studio apartment when he heard screaming from outdoors.

At first, Newcomb ignored the commotion. Then he began to smell something burning.

“I went down the fire escape and saw smoke and fire,” a shoeless and still-shakened Newcomb said Wednesday in an interview in front of the building.

“All my stuff was in there,” he said. “I have nowhere to go. Really, I have no clue.”

The Lincoln chapter of the American Red Cross is providing temporary housing for five families displaced by the fire, including Rupe and her family, and Thompson and Drummond. The agency also is providing food and clothing assistance.

While the fire is a clear calamity for the families, Lincoln Fire Chief Mike Spadt said, the number of fireworks-related incidents was minimal.

The department responded to 26 such incidents — most of them grass fires — in recent days, he said.

“When you consider how many people were using fireworks, that number seems pretty minimal,” Spadt said.

Spadt, who went to the fire Tuesday night, said a fireworks frenzy seemed to have gripped some Lincoln neighborhoods.

“It was chaotic last night,” he said. “I don’t know how you bring order to that.”

Reach Clarence Mabin at or 473-7234.

Fireworks numbers

518 — Fireworks-related complaints received by Lincoln police between Saturday and early Wednesday.

3 — Tickets issued by police for illegal possession of fireworks.

30 — Fireworks-related injuries treated at Lincoln’s three hospitals and health clinics. Most injuries were to hands and eyes and only one required hospitalization. Last year, 18 people reported injuries.

26 — Fireworks-related incidents the Lincoln Fire Department responded to. Most were grass fires, and only two involved house fires.

Source: Lincoln police and fire officials

Lincoln Fire & Rescue Department

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