Historic house burns

Staff Written Featured, News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

A beloved historic house in Rutledge caught fire last week, severely damaging the home owned by John Pisello and Keith Rex. 

A blazing fire broke out at the historic Hollis House, built in 1905, and located at 171 Fairplay Street in Rutledge on Friday, Sept. 20, taking four fire departments to extinguish. After completing an investigation, the Morgan Fire Department and the State Fire Marshall’s Office determined the cause of the fire was “most likely from smoking.”

“It is a very sad day in Rutledge,” said a release from Rutledge City officials. “A spectacular house, a painted lady, was lost today. Fortunately all humans and animals are okay. Four fire departments responded; Rutledge (part of Morgan County), Morgan County, Walton County and Social Circle responded. Those firemen just walked right into that burning structure. That’s what these first responders do. Incredible professionals. This home, in all its glory, will be missed. This 1905 home was built by the grandparents of Gregory Hollis and is currently owned by John Pisello and Keith Rex.”

However Rex and Pisello maintain the historic house will live on despite the severe fire damage suffered last week. 

Rex saw the fire firsthand. 

“I left John with the dogs and made that dreadful ride to see my beautiful house in flames,” said Rex. “This is like losing a family member.”

“We will rebuild,” said Pisello. “We’re very grateful to all our friends who have come out to help us pack up and save what was salvageable.” 

“Believe it or it’s not as bad as it looks,” added Rex. “She will be back in all her painted glory. We will move back after it’s rebuilt.”

Pisello and Rex own J&K Fleas An’Tiques in Madison and were keeping many of their collectibles and heirlooms in the Hollis House. 

“So many of my treasures are gone,” said Rex. “But no one got hurt and that’s the best thing.”

Rex and Pisello bought the house back in 2003, rehabilitated it, and lived there until 2013. The couple, who currently reside in Conyers, was in the process of readying the house to move back into when the fire unexpected broke out.

“The house is not a total loss and we will rebuild it. But There is so much water damage to my furnishings downstairs,” lamented Rex. “I had removed most of my furniture from upstairs years ago and a lot was removed from downstairs. But all this week I had been carrying furniture to the house. I packed the parlor and the dining room this week! The firefighters put a tarp over my parlor set and over as much stuff as they could reach in the parlor. When I left the water had not gotten into the kitchen, butlers pantry and breakfast room…I had never removed any of that stuff and it was spared. I didn’t get to look all over the house but the media room, dining room and study have so much water damage. The upstairs is pretty much toast.” 

According to Morgan County Fire Chief Jeff Stone, mutual was called in since Morgan County firefighters were on scene of an accident on I-20. 

“Career personnel were already on scene of an overturned vehicle with injuries on I-20 at the 108-mile marker, that had been dispatched at 2:15 pm,” explained Stone. “Personnel handling the accident quickly called for mutual aid to the structure fire from Social Circle Fire Department, knowing they would be delayed.  Volunteer personnel from station 9 – Rutledge just happen to be working in Rutledge when the structure fire call came out and immediately left their jobs to respond to the Fire station, which is approximately 100 yards away from the residence.  These two volunteer members were able to leave work and have a fire truck on scene within six minutes from the initial call.  Utilizing both truck water and the available hydrant in the front yard, the initial two members from Rutledge and a third volunteer from Fairplay Station 6 were able to make a quick attack on the fire.”

“The first unit used the large deck gun on the fire truck to dump 1,000 gallons of water immediately on the fire which quickly subdued it and stopped it from spreading further through the house,” explained Stone.   “Personnel were then able to begin making an interior attack.  Over the next several minutes, other Morgan County Fire members and the career personnel were able to arrive on scene including the Mutual Aid units from Social Circle and Walton County Fire departments. Using Social Circle’s Ladder truck and staffing from all agencies, the quick knock down was achieved and the majority of the house was saved.  While there was extensive water damage, most of the house is still structurally intact, the occupants and owners’ belongings were saved and can be restored through proper methods.  This is huge plus as compared to the potential lose if everything had burned instead.  Many times, the outcome of the house or the personal belongs are completely lost due to the fire.  While the fire was knocked back quickly and stopped from spreading, crews spent the next several hours on scene assuring there were no hot spots and areas that would re-ignite later on.”

Rex noted it was Social Circle’s ladder truck that made the difference. 

“Social Circle’s ladder truck saved the house,” said Rex. “The house is so tall it was hard to get water up on the roof without that ladder truck.”

Stone noted the age of the house affected fire extinguishing efforts. 

“The age of the house was both a blessing and hindrance.  The solid built construction of the home is a contributing factor to the ability to save such a large percentage,” said Stone.  “This gave the members time to arrive and make the necessary interior attack that they did.  Often times with newer construction homes and pre-construction techniques, the homes burn quicker and spread much faster.  Because of the solid wood and construction methods of this style and era home, this kept the fire moving slower, but this also presented complications for the fire crews to find any hidden embers and hot spots.  Thick true size wood and Tongue grove ceilings, walls, floors all make opening these areas up extremely difficult.”

Stone was grateful for the fearless dedication of his own firefights and generous response from surrounding communities. 

“As Fire Chief, I would like to congratulate the exceptionally quick response and superior job performance from all the men and women from Morgan County Fire Rescue,’ said Stone.  “The members of MCFR go above and beyond when the time and call is needed.  I am proud to be part of great department with such dedicated and amazing members.  I also wish to thank the Social Circle and Walton County Fire departments for their assistance in the incident.  I would like to give a special thank you to the owners and workers from the Caboose for providing the crews with water during this hot and laborious task as well as the Rutledge community for assisting and supporting their local station as well as the entire Morgan County Fire Rescue Department.”

Rex and Pisello are grateful that the fire did not completely destroy the house thanks to the brave firefighters who showed up. 

“The house survived thanks to the valiant efforts of four fire departments, and we do plan to rebuild. We know there’s a lot of water and smoke damage inside, and the attic and roof will have to be rebuilt,” said Pisello. 

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