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Friends, neighbors offer help to Logan couple whose home burned

October 15th, 2014 Posted in Opinion

Story by Michael Royer, photos by Lindsay Loscher and Michael Royer

LOGAN — As Richard and Betsy Wagstaff watched their garage and part of their home go up in flames Tuesday afternoon, an old adage filled the minds of onlookers: Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

Smoke rises hundreds of feet in the air from a fire at 273 N. 400 West in Logan. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Loscher.

“You know it breaks my heart,” said Nick Vernon, a friend of the Wagstaffs for more than 25 years. “They are two of the kindest people you will ever meet.”

The Logan Police Department was the first emergency crew to respond to the scene. “We got the call at 4:37 p.m. that there was a structure fire that needed immediate assistance,” said Sgt. Jeff Simmons. “We are fortunate that no one was severely injured and everyone was able to make it out of the home alive.”

Tuesday was a rarity for emergency response teams in the Logan area.

“The structure fire was our eighth simultaneous call we had on Tuesday,” said Jeff Peterson, Logan City fire chief. “We were stretched thin, no city our size can handle eight simultaneous calls efficiently but we did it. I couldn’t be more proud of the way our guys responded in a chaotic situation.”

At the fire’s peak there were six different agencies responding to the structure fire. “We had engines from all over the valley involved,” Peterson said. “North Logan, Smithfield, Wellsville, Hyrum, Mendon and of course our engines here in Logan all responded.”

It is not typical to have so many outside agencies contribute to a single structure fire, he said.

A Logan engine, which had been sent to Amalga earlier in the day, was the first to respond to the call. It was responding to a motorcycle accident on 1400 North in Logan when it got the call to respond to the fire.

“People always ask me… why would you send an engine to a medical call?” said Peterson. “Well, yesterday proves exactly why. We had an engine in the area to assist with the motorcycle accident, there were off-duty firefighters and advanced emergency medical technicians who also responded. Once the fire call came in, the engine was able to peel off and respond to the fire and leave the medical personnel with the motorcycle accident.”

Simmons estimates there were 10 police officers at the scene and about 20 firefighters during the blaze.

“There were more people in my yard and around my house than I have ever seen,” said Carolyn McNeil, a neighbor who has lived in Logan for 40 years. “I feel terrible for the Wagstaffs. They don’t deserve this, no one does. I feel their pain, when you lose something — it hurts.”

Lindsey Loscher and her husband have lived next door to the Wagstaffs since getting married in June. “They are the nicest older couple,” said Loscher. “Betsy was having a LDS Primary meeting with another two women and their three children when they smelled smoke.”

Many of the neighbors mentioned how much Richard loved to be outside working on his landscaping around his house or working in his garden. “I saw him out there this morning looking at all of his burned up tools and he just looked alone,” Loscher said. “They have been living here near 30 years. Thirty years of tools and memories just gone. It is so sad for them.”

Simmons said that there is a suspicion that because Richard Wagstaff had recently mowed their lawn and parked the lawn mower in the garage moments before the fire occurred, the timing might have had something to do with the cause of the fire.

Damage was extensive to the Wagstaff home. Photo by Michael Royer.

“The cause is still being investigated, we have some ideas but the state fire marshall is here today conducting an investigation,” Peterson said. “The only thing we know for sure is that it was an accidental cause.”

The community has offered much-needed support for the Wagstaffs, with many neighbors contributing food and offering their homes as a place to stay.

“People have been coming by just to offer support,” McNeil said. “I went and put their name in the temple today. In times like this there is not much to say, it is just important that they know we are here for them in whatever they need.”

The Herald Journal’s estimate of $100,000 in damages may be conservative, Peterson said. “That is exactly why it is called an estimate, I would guess it would be at least that if not quite a bit more.”

The Logan City Fire Department cut power to seven homes Tuesday evening for several hours, as crews worked to get the fire under control. “Power and water don’t mix well,” said Peterson. “Some of the most dangerous situations come when you get power lines that are live and have people around like we had Tuesday night.” Logan City Light and Power was at the scene of the fire Wednesday to repair a power pole that had been severely damaged.

The rebuilding period now starts for the Wagstaffs, and it is unclear as to what they will do.

“I would imagine that they will try and rebuild their garage,” Loscher said. “It is just too bad they are older in their years. This could take a lot out of them.”


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