'Tunnel Of Smoke' Lures Men To Burning House On Palmer

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"We were going up the hill and saw a big black tunnel of smoke," Travis McNeely said Tuesday morning, recalling the house fire he and Chris Simmons spotted on Palmer Drive Saturday morning. "As we got closer, we saw flames shooting out the side of the house. There was smoke everywhere ... We were surprised we were the first ones to see it. It looked like all the neighbors were asleep. It was crazy. I've never seen a house on fire. It was scary."

Despite quick action by the two men, the home at 2809 W. Palmer Drive was destroyed by the blaze.

"I'm going to be submitting names for Good Guy awards," Payson Fire Marshal Jack Babb said. "Two young men, Travis McNeely and Chris Simmons, both 21, were driving up to the area when they saw that the house was on fire. They woke up neighbors so that somebody would call 911."

"When we saw the flames coming out of the house, I ran right up to the door," Simmons said. "I pounded on the doors and windows I was screaming loud. I wanted to make sure nobody was inside asleep."

Once the two men were certain as possible that the house was unoccupied, McNeely banged on the doors of neighboring homes, trying to find someone to call 911.

He succeeded. Unfortunately, the 7:38 a.m. call received by the fire department did not come early enough to allow the firefighters of Engine 121 to save the home.

Once the blaze was extinguished, officials from the town's building department told Babb that the house, owned by Terry Smith, would have to be razed.

"There are still some personal items inside the house which are salvageable," Babb said. "But the roof is gone, one of the back bedrooms is gone, and a lot of the ceiling has been removed either by fire or by firefighters trying to fight the fire."

Babb estimates that the house was valued at about $140,000, and that the loss of personal items was about $25,000.

Although a number of possible causes have been ruled out, including natural gas and a malfunctioning furnace, the most probable source of the fire has not yet been identified.

"At this point, it is still under investigation," Babb said.

A benefit event for Smith is in the process of being organized by her friend and neighbor, Christine Zuber.

Scheduled for 8 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, Oct. 26 at Famous Sam's, the evening will offer live music and a variety of raffles.

For information, or to contribute, call Zuber at 468-9550.

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