Smoking pipe blamed for condo blaze

Published 5:59 pm Thursday, June 24, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Dick Conrad was on the 15th hole at Orchard Hills Country Club when he received a call from his sister that the condominium next to his was on fire.
He abandoned his round and sped home to survey the situation at the Missions East complex located off of Niles-Buchanan Road.
According to the Niles Township Fire Department, the fire started in the unit next door as a result of embers from a pipe the resident dropped when he was smoking.
Conrad's neighbor, retired Niles physician, Dr. John Strayer, 89, reportedly looked around for any possible embers near the chair he was sitting in, but could not find any in sight. Strayer then went outside to read and soon after noticed smoked pouring out of his residence. His wife, Virginia, was not home at the time.
Niles Township Firefighter Bob Ruff said the department received a call regarding the fire at the 1300 block of Missions East Drive in Niles Township at about 1:40 p.m.
He indicated there was a fire wall between the two units, but the fact that the fire made it outside to the roof allowed it to spread next door to Conrad's unit.
As Conrad, a 69-year-old Niles native, stood outside and watched firefighters try to contain the blaze, he expressed concern about some personal belongings that he had inside, which included autographed memorabilia from athletes like Muhammad Ali, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. But, he was more relieved that no one was hurt in the blaze.
Ruff, who was one of the first firefighters on the scene, said they began fighting the fire from the inside of the Strayer's condo, but soon had to retreat to the outside.
With assistance from Niles City and Howard Township Fire Departments, the fire was extinguished in about an hour.
Ruff said a combination of multiple hand lines, the township's deck gun and the city's tower unit all helped to contain the fire.
He assumed that the extensive smoke damage in the Strayer's unit had caused a "total loss," stating that nearly everything in the apartment had turned black.
Ruff said they were able to salvage more personal belongings from Conrad's unit because the fire spread to his condo from the outside. But, he thinks the overall structural damage to the building will cause both units to be replaced.