Historic Main Line mansion destroyed by fire

Chopper 6 HD was over a fire that was consuming a mansion in Radnor Twp., Pa. on Wednesday afternoon.

April 5, 2012 8:29:42 AM PDT
A Delaware County mansion described as 'grand' and 'historic' was destroyed by fire on Wednesday afternoon.

Authorities say an alarm company first notified firefighters about the blaze.

A multi-alarm fire turned a $5-million dollar mansion into charred embers.

The flames erupted around 2:30pm inside the French chateau on South Ithan Avenue in Radnor Township not far from Villanova University.

The fire burned for three hours before officials brought it under control.

Firefighters remained on the scene until late in the evening.

The view from Chopper 6 HD showed large flames engulfing portions of the roof the mansion as a thick trail of smoke billowed high into the sky.

"It's a shame. It's a beautiful old building, so I don't think they will rebuild it," said neighbor Paul Yeakel.

The fire marshal continues to look for the cause, but officials say the house had an alarm and sprinkler system to help prevent a major fire, but it appears that the system was no match for whatever started the fire.

Dozens of firefighters worked throughout the evening to put out hotspots that left the 22,000 square foot home a burned out shell.

One firefighter suffered a minor burn while another suffered a back injury. They were both transported to nearby hospitals.

There was no immediate word on a cause of this fire, but the fire marshal is hoping to have a preliminary cause by Thursday.

The mansion, which sits on six acres, was built in 1920s by a wealthy Philadelphia industrialist as a wedding present for his daughter.

It is now owned by Jerald Batoff, who had been trying to sell it. A Canadian family has been renting it since the fall.

The home was so big, the family living inside didn't know there was a fire until the alarm system sounded and alerted firefighters.

The Canadian renters got out safely with their pets.

"It was just a tough fire," said Chief Dan Kincade. "It had a slate roof. Trying to get through the roof to get to the fire, the fire was underneath really heavily and it's just hard to put out a fire that contained with that much heat."

Several decades ago another fire took out the roof of the mansion. Those who know the historic nature of the home are not confident that it can be restored.

The French chateau, known at one time as the Bloomfield Estates, was called one of the last remaining country estates on the Main Line.

A stream of neighbors arrived on the scene as the fire raged.

"It was sad. It was there, it was part of the neighborhood and I loved to see it," said neighbor Elaine Sharer.

John Soeth's grandfather used to be a groundkeeper. He showed us an old map which gave an aerial view of the property. When asked what it was like to grow up in a place like this, he said "I loved it and it I thought it was the best place in the whole world."

The building was 22,000 square feet with 19 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms.

Retired businessman Wayne Lewis owned the 6 acre estate in the 70s.

"I thought it was a bloody shame actually, because it was such a pretty house," said Lewis, after watching the inferno eat away at the roof of his former home.

"When we moved in, it was really quite nice and we lived there for several years and then we finally moved out because it was a tad big," Lewis said.