‘It’s just a mess:’ House fire that spread to 2 other homes near 40th and Garfield investigated as arson

MILWAUKEE -- One home (a duplex) was deemed a total loss and two others were scorched after a fire around 4 a.m. Sunday morning, Sept. 9. MFD officials said this fire is being investigated as arson.

With a gaping hole in its roof and charred interior, a shell of a home was all that remained near 40th and Garfield after the fire.

Aaron Lipski

"There was very little that you couldn't see burning on the structure," said Aaron Lipski, Milwaukee Fire Department deputy chief.

The fire was so intense, it engulfed the residence and spread to the adjacent homes.

"We already had fire extension. The exteriors of the house to the northern end, the south were igniting and well underway to becoming their own large fires," said Lipski.

Lipski said crews coordinated a plan of attack.

"Our initial on scene commanders made the wise decision to break that fire in parts and separate the large body of fire from the houses on either side," said Lipski.

Firefighters had a hard time even getting to the blaze. They had to cut trees down just to get in position to douse the home.

"Very large trees along the curb line. Our aerial ladders have a large boom on the top with the ability to throw water from an elevated height. They did a remarkable job," said Lipski.

With only the siding seemingly affected on the neighboring homes, residents were thankful.

"That's scary because what if the outcome could have been worse than was it was?" said Debra Smiter.

Smiter said neighbors alerted those in the burning homes to come out to safety.

"I felt bad for them. One had a baby that was 7 months old and had two kids. I let them in my house," said Smiter.

Meanwhile, fire investigators and police stayed on scene, working to determine how and why all of this occurred.

"It's just a mess," said Smiter.

The cause and origin of the fire remain under investigation. Officials have not said whether there were working smoke detectors in any of the affected homes. The Red Cross did respond to assist the families.