Two Jefferson County homes were destroyed by separate fires on Tuesday night as firefighters battled against bitter cold temperatures and deep snow following the winter storm that passed through the county earlier in the day.
Madison Township fire chief Robert Black had high praise for the efforts firefighters gave under demanding conditions against fires that were well underway by the time they arrived.
“It was a tough night, but they kept after it. Our guys stayed strong and our girls did too. Our men and women in the fire department stood on top in the heat,” he said.
Firefighters were first dispatched to the 1900 block of West Dawson Smith Road in Madison Township at 6:02 p.m. Black said firefighters were there on the scene until around 10 p.m. before returning to the firehouse to clean up and defrost their equipment. They had completed that task by only a half-hour when they were called back out at 12:02 a.m. to assist Kent Fire Department with a structure fire in the 6000 block of West 500 North in Smyrna Township.
“By far, it was an outstanding effort” by all involved, said Black. “They met the conditions that we were dealt with” and worked hard in fighting the fires.
Black said he was at the Madison Township firehouse at the time the first fire was reported at the West Dawson Smith Road home of Brandon Alexander and Sarah Morgan, who were not at home when the blaze began, and by essentially being on standby, it allowed for a quick response.
While fighting the fire a sound like an explosion was heard but the cause of the fire is still under investigation. He said the structure is a pre-fabricated home, and had “a roof like there is on a trailer,” a style of construction that makes fires more difficult to access and control.
Firefighters were battling the fire inside the house when the roof began to collapse so “they had to back out and evaluate. The smoke began changing colors, and the fire really took off,” he said. As the fire began to dissipate, a thermal imaging camera was used to help find hot spots and make sure the fire was totally out. All four walls of the house were left standing, but he said the home was a total loss with the roof completely gone.
Black said firefighters were able to salvage some photographs, clothes and important documents for the family.
“We try to serve the community if we can, and salvage what we can that’s important to them,” Black said. “It helps them deal with their grief.”
County highway department workers helped salt roads and keep highways safe for tanker trucks hauling water to the scene. Madison Township, Rykers Ridge and Dupont fire departments all had tankers and firefighters on the scene. Hanover Fire Department was also there with its first responder truck to provide refreshments and other support to firefighters.
Black said the house on West 500 North, owned by Bob Ford, was “totally engulfed” when Madison Township arrived on scene to assist Kent Fire Department. He noted the occupants discovered the fire when there was a malfunction in an oxygen machine but the exact cause of the blaze is still under investigation and could have been an electrical malfunction or something else.
Black said Ford lived at the home with two other people and all three were able to escape the fire unharmed.
“It was an older home,” said Black, and didn’t have the protections in place in the walls that newer homes have to slow the spread of fire. Once the fire got into the walls, it was difficult to stop and there was no preventing it from destroying the home.
“Even with the conditions, it was a losing battle, but we still did our due diligence and worked to do the right things to try to put the fire out,” Black said. Firefighters were on the scene until 3 a.m. before heading back to the station to cleanup up equipment once again. That made for a long day for all Madison Township firefighters. By 9 a.m. Wednesday, Black said he had gotten about 45 minutes sleep over the previous 24 hours.
“They did an excellent, excellent job,” Black said, of the firefighters, dispatchers, highway workers and everyone involved. While neither home could be saved the firefighters made the best out of a bad situation for all involved and there were no injuries in either blaze.
Thanking veterans for their service is an honorable thing, and Bonnie Wentworth hopes recognizing her father-in-law, Joe Wentworth of Milton, helps spread the word about Quilts of Valor to involve even more veterans.
On Saturday, Joe Wentworth was presented a Quilt of Valor — a quality quilt handmade by volunteers of an organization that has made thousands of quilts for presentation to service member and veterans who has been touched by war as a thank you for their service and sacrifice for their nation.
“Everything you gave us to be in service, we do know when you were called you stepped up and did it,” said Carolyn Elliott, Quilts of Valor coordinator in Kentucky. “You defended the country against all enemies, and for that we are forever grateful, so as you receive our quilt today, know it is a gesture of very deep gratitude from a grateful nation.”
Joe Wentworth served as a Marine in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, and was in the service from 1966 to 1970.
The quilt awarded to Wentworth, called Splashy Stars, featured stars and red, white and blue colors as do many Quilts of Valor. A tag contains his name and the names of the two volunteers who made the quilt — Cathy Fleseler who pieced the top and Tess Trammell who did the binding — and the date awarded Feb. 13. 2021.
Bonnie Wentworth said receiving the quilt, “was very special” to her father-in-law “He was completely surprised. It was so special to him.”
She said Joe Wentworth’s service in the Marines was meaningful to him and that he regularly wears his Marine hat and jacket, but never talks about serving in Vietnam. She noted that many who served in Vietnam, were poorly received when they returned home.
“This is a way of welcoming them home years and years later,” she said.
Bonnie Wentworth said her own father served in the Air Force, but she didn’t learn about Quilts of Valor until after he had died. His love for the country was felt often.
“Every time, he would hear the National Anthem, he would get choked up,” she said, adding that helps her to know how meaningful it was for her father to have served.
She noted thanking veterans through Quilts of Valor is a “super cool thing. I hope more people who know veterans will look into it, and learn more about it. We have a lot of veterans who put their heart and soul into what they did, and we need to spread the word about it.”
Information for this story was gathered by Lindsey Hiolley of The Madison Courier’s media partner WKM NEWS. For more coverage, visit WKMNEWS.COM.
“If I’m being honest, I’m pretty shy and I get really nervous performing in front of crowds,” relates Natalie Lavonne, one half of the duo Natalie and JT. “In some ways I’d be just as happy writing the songs and having other people perform them.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Natalie continues, “I do enjoy singing, especially smaller venues like Off Broadway Taproom, and I do feed off a good crowd when they are really enjoying my songs. But I’m not sure I could do it in front of a big crowd.”
JT Shea has been playing in various bands for about five years, but feels much the same way. “My job is to stand back on the stage, behind the singer, and make the singer sound good and feel good,” says JT. “I guess you could say I’m shy just like Natalie. But we have these songs we want to share, so you have to get out on stage and put yourself out there.”
Natalie lives in Henry County, Kentucky, although she was born in Madison. Some live music fans may remember her from some years back when she was part of a popular duo that played Tiffany’s Lounge and other venues.
“I tell anybody who is looking to hear good live music, they need to come to Madison, even over going to Louisville or somewhere,” says Natalie. “Every player here is so good, and the town just seems to understand and appreciate quality music.”
JT is a La Grange, Kentucky native, born and raised, and lives there still. The pair met when JT was dating a friend of Natalie’s. One night they started playing and singing together and realized they made a great team.
They officially hit the ground as a working duo in October of 2019 and were having some success booking gigs and gaining a following. But then of course, COVID hit in March of 2020 and kind of threw a wet blanket on the live music scene. Things are starting to pick up again now, and they are even looking for a second guitarist to fill out their sound.
“When we play a bar or brewery we play a lot of covers, of course, in addition to some of our original songs,” says Natalie. “People can expect to hear Alanis Morissette, Melanie and even the Eagles. I guess you’d say our show is classic rock, blues, and 90s rock.
“I do most of the writing for our original songs,” says Natalie. “I’ll come up with the lyrics and even a basic melody, and I’ll kind of sing it into my phone recorder and send it to JT. He fleshes it out and turns it into a real song. He also does all our recording production at our basement studio. He’s a genius at that stuff!
“We have a four song EP coming out very soon. We actually released the first single from the album on Feb. 1, it’s called ‘Medicated.’ Charlsee Gandee sings backup on that track, and we’re very proud of it. We’re also working on video for Medicated, collecting footage and working on the final edit.
“I guess as we look to the immediate future we’re just looking to play more shows, make the circle a little bigger, and reach more people with our music. Our ultimate goal would be to sell a song! I can’t think of any bigger thrill than hearing some super star singing one of our songs on the radio and everywhere.”
There is an interesting Two-Fer going on this weekend at Mad Paddle Brewstillery. Craig Philipp is an eminent chemistry professor and veteran bass player in a number of different bands. His band the Men’s Room is playing Friday at Mad Paddle, and it’s made up of Hanover students and professors, playing a mix of their favorite tunes. On Saturday Craig will be back with his band The Bottle Trees, which tends more to blues and rock fare. On Friday at Off Broadway Taproom Brother Smith will be blistering the place with their tight musicianship and vocal harmonies. These guys are the real deal, check them out.This Week in Music
Mad Paddle Brewery — Brooke Hall
Friday, February 19
Mad Paddle Brewery — Men’s Room
Off Broadway Tavern — Brother Smith
Saturday, February 20
Mad Paddle Brewery — The Bottle Trees
Thomas Family Winery — David Wilson
Off Broadway Tavern — Jimmy Davis
Sherman Bier Garten (Batesville) — Rusty Bladen
Charlie Rohlfing is a retired advertising man and partner in The Red Bicycle Hall music venue. Look for his distinctive fedora bobbing above the crowd, anywhere live local music is happening.