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By Echo Menges
Volunteer firefighters responded to a structure fire at 411 Main Street in LaBelle during their lunch hour, approximately 12:15 p.m., on Wedensday, February 1.
They arrived to find smoke billowing from the front/north side of the two-story house, and flames were visible from the back/ south side, according to Chris Heimer, Public Information Officer for the Western Lewis Couty Fire Protection District.
The four firefighters arriving first at the scene were met by neighboring departments responding with mutual aid.
As the firefight unfolded, 25 volunteer firefighters from five rural volunteer fire departments responded with needed equipment and water. Firefighters from the WLCFPD, the R-4 Fire Protection District, Canton R-V Fire Protection District, Newark Rural Volunteer Fire Department, and the Knox City Rural Fire Department responded.
As the firefight continued into the night, more volunteer firefighters steadily arrived, though the exact final numbers are unknown, according to Carol York, PIO for the NRVFD.
The Lewis County Ambulance District also responded to the call, and remained available on the scene, though no injuries were reported during the blaze.
The effort to try to save the home of Dwight Clay, a lifelong Lewis County resident, was hard fought and lost. The roof of the residence was swallowed by smoke and flames before collapsing into the second floor.
At times, the flames reached an estimated 20 feet or more above the second story, and thick smoke billowed eastward leaving a brownish haze across the skyline on the north and east sides of the community.
Homeowner Clay, reported being in Hurdland when the fire broke out. He rushed back to his residence and watched helplessly as it was overtaken by flames. The fire burned so hot the aluminum siding melted off of the south wall and a portion of the west wall.
Clay stood quietly on the scene watching. Several neighbors and friends offered condolences, many of them firefighters, for the lost home, and he shared there was paperwork and photos inside he hated to lose.
“I’ve been sick lately and I’m glad I got up and out today. If I would have been home, I probably would have been asleep in there,” said Dwight Clay.
The cause of the fire is unknown. A fire investigator from the Missouri Fire Marshal’s office was called to the scene. Details about a preliminary cause were not available at the time of this report.
According to Clay, space heaters were being used in the home, and the electrical wiring was old.
The surrounding community began rallying to support Clay immediately.
“The clothes need has been filled,” said Wendy Lewis, LaBelle City Clerk. “He has a place to stay in LaBelle.”
Donations including kitchen supplies, food, clothing and furniture began being dropped off at the LaBelle City Hall the following day, and a local rental property owner offered Clay an open rental unit.
Clay’s children also started a GoGundMe online account, which, as of midday on Monday, raised nearly $3,000.
According to Clay, he did have some insurance coverage on the property.
Anyone wishing to donate items or funds toward Clay’s losses can contact Wendy Lewis at the LaBelle City Hall or donate through the GoFundMe account at https://gofund. me/6ae0c196.