Neighbor Sounds Warning Before Grass Fire Spreads To Homes

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR) - Strong winds fueled flames Saturday afternoon spreading a small brush fire to two homes on Grandview near Oakland in the west St. Louis City neighborhood of Hi-Pointe. St. Louis Fire Department investigators are not sure yet what caused the outbreak, but by the time a neighbor spotted the fire it was beginning to spread to a wooden deck.

A large stone home built in 1907 sustained the most damage. Owners Rita Csapo-Sweet and her husband Fred Sweet were upstairs working on their computers and unaware of the danger behind their house. Sister Mary Ellen Mayer who was house sitting two doors away spotted the fire and began knocking on doors. "The angels said you need to be here now," Sister Mayer said as she and other neighbors watched firefighters pour water on two homes.
(Sister Mayer spent 25 years teaching Montessori early childhood lessons to students at Visitation Academy.)

Sharon Avila's parents live next door. She had just returned from a luncheon and saw the smoke. "Had I been five minutes later there is no telling; it was just awful because it transferred from their roof over to our roof," she said. Avila's father, Peter Avila is dealing with early stages of dementia and "needs help in such a circumstance," she explained. Avila was filling in as caretaker while her mother attended a family funeral in their native Belize. "I'm glad I came home when I did; it's just the Lord working," she said.

The Sweet's gas grill burned in the fire, but St. Louis City Battalion Chief Steve Simpson said the tank of propane functioned properly shutting off most of the fuel and permitting only a small amount to burn.

The fire quickly spread across the back of the home and climbed to the roof before spreading next door to the Avila's roof.

Rita Csapo-Sweet, a media professor at UMSL is an artist. All her work in the home was destroyed. Her husband, Fred Sweet is a medical science professor at the Washington University Medical School. Both left the home without grabbing any important papers or documents. We just thought it was a small backyard grass fire, Prof. Csapo-Sweet said.
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