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Published: Sunday, 3/7/2010

Blaze damages carriage house at Hayes center in Fremont


FREMONT - An 8-year-old boy playing with a small propane torch started a fire that damaged a carriage house on the grounds of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, authorities said.

The blaze, reported about 3:15 p.m. yesterday, displaced the family living on the second floor.

Destroyed in the garage on the first floor - where the fire began - were a pickup, tractors used to maintain the grounds, and other equipment.

"We're trying to recover from the shock," said Thomas Culbertson, executive director of the center.

Tour guides in the historic Hayes home, not 100 feet from the carriage house, were alerted to the fire by a loud bang - likely the sound of bursting tires in the garage, said Lt. John Burmeister of the Fremont Fire Department.

Investigators believe the fire was an accident. The boy ignited a pile of newspapers as he played with the torch.

Seeing the fire, he ran away.

"As an 8-year-old, it was beyond what he could comprehend," Lieutenant Burmeister said.

When they arrived, firefighters encountered three garage bays "full of fire and [fire] going up the side of the building," Lieutenant Burmeister said.

The blaze was largely confined to the garage, but there was some fire damage to the upstairs and smoke damage throughout the building.

Authorities did not have a damage estimate last night.

The carriage house was built in the 1870s and has been added on to at least once, Mr. Culbertson said.

The second floor has been an apartment for about 100 years and was the home of John Bell, the Hayes Center's superintendent of building and grounds, and his family. Mr. Bell was not home, and family members who were home escaped unharmed, as did their pets, Mr. Culbertson said.

The boy is a member of the extended family, Lieutenant Burmeister said.

The carriage house is behind the Hayes home and the Hayes museum.

The fire "didn't disrupt the house or museum, and it won't," Mr. Culbertson said.

"We'll be open for business as usual" today, he said.

Contact Mark Zaborney at


or 419-724-6182.

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