More than 30 firefighters respond to blaze
As flames engulfed Ray Tyree’s home of 20 years in Destrehan last Thursday all he could think about was the fire consuming their precious memories until he realized there were people gathering all around.
“Sometimes I think the world isn’t a great place to live, but that night it was the greatest place in the world to live,” Tyree said of his friends and neighbors appearing on the street asking if they could help. “People I’ve never met gave us clothes and gift cards and money.”
It was a different feeling for him, particularly since he was more accustomed to providing help as a board member of the United Way of St. Charles.
But, in only minutes, Tyree, his wife, Celeste, and three children had lost everything.
Around 7:30 p.m., Tyree was on vacation from his job at First NBC Bank in New Orleans and watching political news on his television when he smelled smoke.
It was coming from upstairs and got stronger as he approached his daughter’s bedroom. The knob was cool to the touch so he opened the door, but intense hot air and smoke sent him running downstairs. He yelled to his wife, Celeste, and son, Hunter, to leave the house and he called 911. Fortunately, his daughter, Meredith, was with friends that night.
By the time they walked outside, Tyree could see fire coming through that side of the house.
“You could see flames in the house working their way through the roof through the second-floor window,” Blake Estevez, training chief with Destrehan’s East St. Charles Parish Volunteer Fire Department, said of getting the emergency call that smoke was in a house at 34 Bellgrove Drive around 7:45 p.m.
Norco Fire Chief Kenny Wenning Jr., who arrived at the scene around 8 p.m., said, “Fire was showing and the second story was full involved. The center part of the roof had collapsed.”
According to Estevez, there were no injuries reported or damage to neighboring structures in the Ormond Subdivision.But both Estevez and Wenning say it was an intense, difficult fire that required four fire departments or about 33 firefighters to extinguish the blaze.
First on the scene was East St. Charles Parish Volunteer Fire Department and Norco Fire departments. But Estevez said the fire was so intense and difficult to fight that they needed more manpower so they called in St. Rose Fire Department and then the Paradis Fire Department.
On arrival, Estevez and Wenning say they contended with a faulty fire hydrant with apparent underground damage that sent water gushing to the surface. They relocated to a hydrant on nearby Belle Helen Drive. Estevez said they inspect hydrants yearly, but the problem occurred underground and did not reveal itself until they applied water pressure to it by attaching a hose.
Wenning said the St. Charles Parish Public Works Department responded immediately to repair the hydrant that night.Because of the partially collapsed second-floor roof,
Estevez said they could not fully enter the house although they made their way in the front and south side as far as he thought safe.
“I want everyone to know who showed up … is a volunteer firefighter,” Estevez said. “Everybody’s help was awesome.”
The fire was out by 12:30 a.m. Friday, but firefighters stayed on the scene until 2 a.m. to ensure they had extinguished any remaining hot spots. The cause of the fire is under investigation by the state fire marshal.
“We lost everything we had,” Tyree said. “My wife and I are pack rats and we had a lot of memories in that house.”
But, he also acknowledged the situation could have turned out so differently.
Of their three “big ole cats” – all living outdoors, Cookie has been found. Tater (aka Lt. Whiskers) and Toulouse are still loose, but expected to return soon.
“There are other people with worse problems than this,” Tyree said. “We’ve got insurance. I’m going to rebuild and spend the rest of my life in Destrehan. Why would I leave with the way the community came to us?”