About 13 hours after firefighters were first called to a home owned by Divine Word Seminary in Epworth, the building burned to the ground.
When emergency responders arrived shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday, the unoccupied house at 112 First Street SW was fully engulfed with heavy fire in the attic extending through the roof in the center of the house.
According to Epworth fire chief Tom Berger, the fire was too advanced to fight from inside, so firefighters fought the flames outside with five hose lines.
Firefighters were first called to that address at 11:30 a.m. Monday to extinguish a fire in the attic above the kitchen ceiling. An overloaded electrical circuit caused that fire.
Berger said the residents of the home—three Divine Word students and a faculty member—had called the maintenance department after the power went out on one side of the home.
Maintenance worker Jim Callahan replaced the fuse, which immediately blew. Callahan smelled the fire and called it in to authorities.
Berger said firefighters cut a hole in the interior ceiling to access the fire.
Investigation determined that after the morning fire, power was restored to the residence except for the overloaded circuit.
The three students and faculty member displaced by the fire in the morning were moved to a housing unit on campus. The house was unoccupied during both fires.
The Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office and Alliant Energy assisted at the scene.
The cause of the second fire was ruled accidental, with the cause being electricity that was restored to an adjacent circuit that was most likely damaged during the first fire.
The residence was deemed a total loss, with damage estimated at $150,000.
Divine Word is establishing a fund to help the three international lay students and the spiritual director who lived in the home. Stephanie Gado, from Togo, Amarainy Espinosa, from St. Martin’s, Pamela Avellanosa, from the Philippines and Sr. Mary Oladimeji, RSM, took about a week’s worth of clothes from the home after the first fire, but most of their possessions burned.
Those interested in donating can write checks to Divine Word, memo “displaced student fund.”