Officials release more details in fatal house fire
Fire marshals Friday sifted through the remnants of a house fire that killed 85-year-old Georgette Essery and at least 19 lapdogs. Deputy chief Mike Flermoen said investigators believe the Wednesday night fire may have started in the southeast co...
Fire marshals Friday sifted through the remnants of a house fire that killed 85-year-old Georgette Essery and at least 19 lapdogs.
Deputy chief Mike Flermoen said investigators believe the Wednesday night fire may have started in the southeast corner of the single-story house, but still aren't sure of the cause.
Investigators are questioning Essery's relatives, neighbors, firefighters and anyone else who might have witnessed the blaze, he said.
Flermoen said it could be a few days or longer before the inquiry is complete.
Authorities identified the victim Friday.
Neighbors said Essery was friendly but kept to herself and stayed inside most of the time. She used a scooter to get around but could walk.
Essery, who lived with her 61-year-old daughter, was the only person home when the fire started.
Animal control officer Wilbur Speaker said he had been to the house, at Fenton Avenue and North Fifth Street, in the past to address complaints of barking dogs and too many dogs living at a residence.
City law allows residents to have no more than two dogs older than 6 months in a single-family dwelling. In a residence larger than a four-plex, there can only be one dog older than 6 months in a unit. The rule makes an exception for puppies, Speaker said.
Speaker last visited the home about a year ago and spoke with a woman about the number of dogs at the house. It was not immediately clear if that woman was Essery or her daughter.
"I think it was about seven or eight that I saw at that time," he said.
Speaker told the woman she could only keep two of the dogs. He said he did not go inside the home.
"As far as we go, the only way we could get into the house ... is if she voluntarily let us" or if they obtained a warrant, which didn't seem necessary in this case, he said.
When Speaker made a follow-up visit, the woman told him she was down to two dogs and that the rest had been sold to a pet store. He said the police received no complaints after that visit.
Richard Klockmann, an environmental health specialist with the city's health department, said he spoke with Essery's daughter this summer about neighbors' complaints concerning clutter in the yard.
"The compliance was slow, so we made additional visits to complete the cleanup," he said. "When I visited there, there were no animals visible outside of the home."
Klockmann said if he had noticed an excessive number of dogs or any unhealthy living conditions, the health department would have taken action.
"We would certainly address that, absolutely," he said. "We would certainly contact an animal warden for their review and follow-up."
Klockmann said he did not go inside Essery's home.
"For an individual living in a home and what they do in their home, if there are no minor children involved and we don't get a reference from a child support agency, we don't go inside people's houses unless we're invited," he said.