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Massive Three Alarm Fire Guts 9000 Square Foot Heights Home, two bodies found

Posted: 01-03-11Category:

SECOND UPDATE: A second victim's body was found in the rubble of the Heights home fire and was identified as that of the homeowner's caretaker, Houston firefighters said. The remains of Mary Elizabeth "Lisa" Sanders, 57, were found around 11:30 a.m. in the rubble of the $2 million residence in the Heights that burned in a three-alarm fire early Monday. The first victim’s body was found amid the ashes and rubble Monday afternoon and has not yet been officially identified. The cause of the fire also has not been determined, HFD officials said today. The palatial home, at 1135 Heights Blvd. near 11th Street, belonged to Evelyn "Patti" Worthington, 68, a disabled woman who suffered from an advanced form of multiple sclerosis, used a wheelchair and required 24-hour care. She had the home built three years ago and frequently opened it to the neighborhood during the Heights Holiday Home Tour during the Christmas holidays. Sanders, identified by her husband, was staying at the residence and likely was sleeping in a separate bedroom upstairs, friends said. Sanders, who had worked for Worthington for six years, was a mother of three daughters and a grandmother of 12. A Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences van was to collect Sanders' body. The three-alarm fire erupted shortly before 4 a.m. Monday and was so intense that it took 250 firefighters almost two hours to extinguish it. The inferno caused the home a two-story, 10,000-square-foot replica of an 1897 Queen Anne Victorian in Virginia to collapse. Worthington’s primary caretakers, Donn and Rita Burch, were not at the home at the time of the fire, but their son, Rhett Burch, 28, who was sleeping in a guest house behind the main residence, tried to rescue Worthington from the inferno and was driven back by thick black smoke billowing from the home, his father said. Update: One person’s body has been recovered and another is still missing after a three-alarm fire early this morning demolished a $2 million Victorian style residence often featured on The Heights’ holiday home tour. Evelyn "Patti" Worthington, 68, who owned the grand home at 1135 Heights Blvd., and another woman a caretaker in her 50s whose name has not been released have been missing all day, friends and family members said. It is not known which of the women’s bodies was recovered this afternoon on the north side of the residence. The cause of the blaze a fire so intense that it required 250 firefighters to subdue remains undetermined. Worthington’s ex-husband, David Worthington, 69, of Naples, Fla., said he expected Houston firefighters would find his former wife’s body inside the charred rubble of her home, noting it is unlikely she would be out of town. "My wife never traveled without assistance, so it’s highly unlikely that she would be on a trip to Santa Fe or something. It’s not within the realm of reality at all," David Worthington said today. "So I assume that they will uncover her remains in the process they’re going through right now." Patti Worthington suffered from an advanced stage of multiple sclerosis and used a wheelchair, friends said. She required 24-hour care. Worthington, a mother of two and a grandmother of six, frequently opened her home to the neighborhood and enjoyed showing her extensive collection of antique dolls, some of which dated back to the 1500s. David Worthington said he will be meeting their two daughters, who are flying from out of state to the Houston area tonight, as Houston Fire Department crews continue their search and recovery efforts. Donn Burch of Kingwood, a close friend of Patti Worthington’s, wept as he recalled the devastation he witnessed at her home today. His wife, Rita Burch, is Worthington’s primary caretaker, but was not at the home when the fire occurred since another caretaker was filling in, he said. "Patti loved my kids so much and was my wife’s best friend and, of course, mine too," he said, choking emotionally on his words. "She was just a great lady. (For her) to have to go that way was extremely horrifying to all of us." The fire broke out around 4 a.m. as the Burches’ son, Rhett Burch, 28, was sleeping in an attached apartment behind the main residence. A taxicab driver passing by saw the home being consumed by flames and rang the bell at the residence’s gate, which woke up Rhett Burch. By then the flames were so fierce and bright that Rhett Burch thought it was daylight when he opened his eyes, his father said. Rhett Burch then ran to the main house and tried to kick in an exterior door leading directly into Patti Worthington’s bedroom, his father said. When the younger man got the door open, he couldn’t see anything inside because of the thick black smoke. Firefighters then arrived and told Rhett Burch to get back for his own safety for fear the roof would collapse on him. Fire crews were unable to rush into the house due to the severity of the blaze. Donn and Rita Burch rushed from their home in Kingwood to Worthington’s home after their son called them at 4 a.m. and sobbed when they saw the severity of the blaze. "I just started crying," Donn Burch recalled emotionally. "I guess there’s something that just triggers inside of you that tells you to be strong for your family, and I was until I turned that corner. It was unbelievably traumatic. "We just had no idea to what extent (the fire was). We thought maybe it was just a fireplace fire that got serious on the inside. And by the time we got there, the whole thing had collapsed," he said. Worthington’s illness had progressed to a stage that she could no longer move herself from her wheelchair she had to be lifted into a vehicle and into her bathtub, Burch said. He said she "absolutely" would not have been able to move herself from her bed into her wheelchair when the fire erupted. The caretaker usually slept in an upstairs bedroom at the residence, he said. Worthington was originally from Blacksburg, Va., the home of Virginia Tech University, her former husband said. She first came to Houston in 1968, then lived in New Orleans from 1972 until 1980, he said. She then returned to the Houston area in 1980, although she spent most of the following years living in Kingwood. Harris County Appraisal District records show she purchased lot on which the treasured home stands in November 2005. It took two years to build the home, and Worthington moved in three years ago, Burch said. "She was highly interested in collecting antique dolls that was her main passion," David Worthington said of his former wife. "She had for the longest time a very exquisite collection of antique dolls from primarily the European Carriage Class Dolls, as they’re called. That passion was almost to the exclusion of many other things." Firefighters are still searching through the charred rubble of the home today. Fire officials said the fast-moving flames razed the house and gutted the garage apartment, which collapsed. HFD spokesman Pat Trahan said said reports about an explosion at the home are not verified. One firefighter was slightly injured with burns on his foot and leg. He was taken to Memorial Hermann and is in good condition. According to a holiday homes-tour brochure from 2008: "The Worthington Home at 1135 Heights Boulevard is a newly constructed, 10,000-square-foot replica of an 1897 Queen Anne Victorian in Virginia. The residence features an extensive front porch, antique fireplace, custom stained glass windows, and two copper-capped turrets." Marc Frazier, who lives with his girlfriend in a home behind the house, said he saw burning ash floating past his home as he looked out the windows. "I woke up and saw the flames. They were massive," Frazier said. Frazier and his girlfriend got out of the house because the flames and smoke were so intense. Stasi Ogier, a Heights resient, said she often enjoyed going to the home when it was open to public on a Heights home tour. She says it’s beautiful and ornate inside. It’s going to be a loss to the neighborhood not to have the home, Ogier said. ORIGINAL POST: Houston is getting off to a terrible start for 2011 fire losses. Last night over 100 firefighters fought a huge 3 alarm blaze at 1135 Heights Blvd in Houston as a 9000 Square foot home went up in flames. Dale Lezon of the Houston Chronicle reports that firefighters are searching through the charred rubble of a Heights home this morning in hopes they won't find an elderly wheelchair-bound woman who's unaccounted for. More than 100 firefighters battled the 3-alarm blaze that broke out around 4 a.m. at 1135 Heights Boulevard. The fire was tapped out about 5:15 a.m., but firefighters aren't sure if the woman who owned the house was home. A man who lived in the garage apartment behind the house apparently woke up, saw the flames and tried to get into the main house to see if anyone was inside, but the intense flames forced him back. The two-story house on Heights Boulevard near 11th Street was built just a few years ago, neighbors said. It was over 9,000 square feet and appraised at $2 million, according to tax records. Fire officials said the fast-moving flames razed the house and gutted the garage apartment, which collapsed. A firefighter sprained his ankle battling the flames but no other injuries were reported. The injured firefighter was not seriously hurt. Firefighters called for extra equipment and personnel to protect structures nearby from the flames. Investigators have not been able to determine what caused the blaze

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