Two firefighters suffered minor injuries battling a Tuesday night blaze that destroyed a large, vacant home in the Druid Hills neighborhood of northeast Atlanta.
Photo: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Overnight fires damage mansion, motorcycles and restaurant

Three overnight fires damaged a historic Druid Hills mansion, 17 Atlanta police motorcycles and a downtown Carrollton restaurant.

Four firefighters suffered injuries battling the Tuesday night blaze that destroyed a large, vacant home in the Druid Hills neighborhood of northeast Atlanta.

One of the firefighters was trapped in the burning house and had to be extricated by fellow firefighters using a metal-cutting saw, according to Atlanta fire spokeswoman Janet Ward.

Ward said that firefighter was in good condition at Grady Memorial Hospital late Wednesday morning. The other injured firefighters were treated for minor injuries at Grady and released.

Honora Handley and her husband recently bought the house, which was designed by architect Francis Palmer Smith, who also designed downtown's Rhodes-Haverty Building and William-Oliver Building as well as Midtown's Cox-Carlton Hotel and Grace United Methodist Church.

"We closed on it Dec. 30 and we had all of our friends over on Jan. 1 for an open house and people loved it," she said.

"We bought it because it was a grand, historic home and hadn't been renovated," Handley said. "We've tried to get this property since 2007. We looked at it when we had our first child, and it was out of our price range."

But she and her husband didn't give up, Handley said.

"When we had our second child, it came on the market again, and we looked at it again," she said. "And then we had our third child last March, and looked at it and had been negotiating on it since April of last year."

Handley said they had big plans for the house.

"We pulled the historic plans from Francis Palmer Smith, and were looking to put it back to its original splendor," she said.

"It needed work, and we were looking to lovingly restore it, and it's just a shock that it's gone," she said. "We pulled up this morning and the front of it just collapsed. Last night, I was so hopeful, maybe they can save the library, or maybe they can save something else. I'm just completely devastated."

Handley said that despite her dream home being in ruins, she was "thankful that the firefighters are OK."

She said she thought a bit of divine intervention might have played a part in the rescue of the firefighter who was trapped inside the home.

"When my mother passed away, we moved some of her things over to the house, and [the firefighter] was trapped in the room where her rosary was," she said. "I looked at the rosary yesterday, and I thought, 'I'll leave it here; it's good luck.' Maybe that helped save him when the ceiling collapsed."

The fire came perilously close to spreading to a piece of Atlanta movie history.

For the past 13 years, Jim Roberts and his family have lived next door, in the house where the 1989 movie, "Driving Miss Daisy," was filmed.

"Because it was so windy, it was blowing embers onto our house," Roberts told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Roberts said the fire caused anxious moments as he spent part of the night "watching embers fly onto and land on the roof, then slide down the roof toward the gutter."

"I had a hose out there, trying to spray into the gutters to make the leaves wet so they wouldn't catch," Robert said. "It was terrifying. Three of our four kids are at home, and they were terrified."

Roberts said the house that burned has been vacant for about 17 years.

"They just sold it, after years of trying, to a family of five three months ago, and they just started a full renovation," he said.

"It was an absolutely grand house, much grander than ours," Roberts said. "On the interior, magnificent wood, libraries, staircases, just absolutely fantastic. It was in a sad state when they bought it, so our enthusiasm was very, very high."

The cause of the 10 p.m. blaze has not been determined.

Firefighters were still pouring water on hot spots just after noon Wednesday.

The night's second fire broke out just before midnight at the Atlanta Police Academy on Southside Industrial Parkway in southeast Atlanta.

Atlanta police Capt. Jack Snowden told Channel 2 Action News that an officer was preparing to start a motorcycle when he noticed sparks.

The officer ran to get a fire extinguisher, but by the time he returned, the motorcycle had caught fire, and the flames had spread to sixteen other motorcycles parked nearby.

The motorcycles were parked under a canopy at the rear of a building at the academy. The building was not damaged and the officer was not injured.

The third fire broke out before daybreak Wednesday in the attic of a restaurant on the town square in Carrollton.

The flames were contained to the restaurant, La Trattoria On the Square, Carrollton fire Chief Jimmy Bearden told Channel 2.

"We had a report of heavy smoke coming from the building about 3:30 a.m.," Bearden said.

He said there were fire walls between the restaurant and other, connected businesses on Adamson Square, helping firefighters to keep the flames from spreading.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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