House that burned was cited last fall for code violations

House that burned was cited last fall for code violations

CHAMPAIGN — A house heavily damaged by fire early Tuesday was the subject of a complaint to the city last fall about its rundown condition.

Records obtained by The News-Gazette from the city's Neighborhood Services Department show that Don Dunlap of Mahomet, the owner of the home at 205 N. Victor St., had been put on notice in late November that the house and garage were in violation of city code.

A fire that started in or near a detached garage on the property jumped about one foot to the unoccupied two-story home, heavily damaging the rear of the house and destroying the garage.

Champaign Fire Marshal John Koller said investigators had finished collecting evidence early Tuesday evening and were looking at it to find the cause of the fire. Koller said he expected to determine the cause by Wednesday morning.

The garage was shared by the occupants of the rental house to the north at 1701 W. Church St. The people living in that rental house were temporarily evacuated as firefighters fought the fire. A neighbor on the south side of the house was also alerted.

Champaign fire department spokeswoman Dena Schumacher said firefighters were called to the Church Street address at 4:14 a.m., arrived at 4:18 a.m., and called a second alarm at 4:25 a.m. due to the cold weather and what they called the complexity of the fire. The fire was out at 6:30 a.m.

Two firefighters received bruises or strains from falls but remained at work, Schumacher said.

She said investigators have not said yet what they think sparked the blaze to the garage. It's unknown if there was electricity to the garage but there were utilities turned on at the home, even though it has been unoccupied for several years. The state fire marshal's office was on the scene on Tuesday afternoon.

Schumacher said Koller learned that Dunlap's late father had started the renovations on the home seven years ago and died before they could be finished.

Ever since then, the house had been sitting with nothing done to it until about a month ago when Dunlap apparently had the power restored to begin renovations, although none had been started, Schumacher said.

The house and the garage were insured, she said.

Among the violations regarding the house cited in a Nov. 21 notice to Dunlap were:

— Sagging and missing panels of the front porch ceiling.

— Windows stored on the roof over the porch.

— Gutters and downspouts with vegetation and weeds growing in them.

— Defective shingles on the roof.

He was also put on notice that the garage paint was cracked, chipped, peeling and flaking and that its door was open to intrusion.

Schumacher said investigators said the blaze started "at" the garage but could not elaborate on what that meant.

Dunlap, who did not return a call seeking comment, was told in the letter that a reinspection was planned for Dec. 27.

However, David Oliver, the city's code compliance manager, said that wasn't done because of the holidays and the city was not as anxious about it since the house is not occupied. The case remains open.

Oliver said the city received a complaint from a citizen in October about the house being in a state of disrepair, which prompted the inspection, and the subsequent findings of violations. Oliver said only the exterior of the house was inspected.