76ºF

Historic downtown Melbourne home destroyed by fire

Black smoke seen for miles around city, residents say

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MELBOURNE, Fla. – Raging orange flames ravaged one of Melbourne's oldest surviving homes, creating a column of black billowing smoke visible from Eau Gallie to the barrier island south of Melbourne Beach.

No injuries were reported but a Melbourne police officer who was patrolling the area first spotted the heavy smoke emanating from the home, News 6 partner Florida Today reported. The officer also attempted to alert residents and rescued a sleeping woman from a backroom, officials reported. The wood-frame home was the first in the city to be deemed historic by the Melbourne Historic Preservation Board.

The blaze was first reported about 12:10 p.m. Thursday in the 1800 block of Riverview Drive, near the intersection of Palmetto Drive and not far from Melbourne Causeway. Firefighters in full-gear, battled the spreading fire in sweltering temperatures, several stopping for hydration as their colleagues kept a steady stream of water on the smoldering remains. Some firefighters took turns resting in the shade beneath a large oak tree, surrounded by oxygen tanks and heavy gear.

The historic house is the Elizabeth Eaton home, which was built in 1893 on the Indian River bluff in Melbourne's Riverview Drive neighborhood.

The 2.5- story wooden-frame home features Victorian architecture -- and it dates to the pioneering era when Melbourne was only accessible by boat. A garage was added sometime after 1920, after automobiles came into vogue, city records show.

"It's really sad. It's a historic structure, and it's a part of Melbourne," City Manager Mike McNees said, watching firefighters battle the blaze."On the other side of the coin, the Melbourne Fire Department kept the fire from spreading to other properties on a really, really hot day," McNees said.

A ensuing column of black smoke from the fire was seen for several miles, with flames leaping out of the second-story of the multi-unit home, officials reported. “Right now, we’re just showing up on the scene and blocking traffic,” said Lt. Steve Sadoff of the Melbourne Police Department.

The owner of the home, Diane Barile, was in Jacksonville at the time of the fire, said her son Dan Barile. "It's a total loss," Barile said as he stood and watched firefighters work to contain the fire. He also added that the family's heirlooms, all kept in the home, were also likely lost in the raging fire.

The flames were knocked down about 1:28 p.m., nearly an hour after the fire was first called in, officials reported. Red Cross officials were also at the site to help residents.

It was not immediately known what caused the fire. An investigation is underway.