Bed-bug treatment sets house on fire

Cincinnati Enquirer
Monday, May 16, 2011

CARTHAGE - Exterminator Richard Tyree was six hours into a heat treatment meant to kill bed bugs in a two-family home Sunday afternoon when a neighbor spotted black smoke pouring from the house.

Tyree called for help - but the ensuing fire destroyed the home in the 300 block of West Seymour Avenue.

The treatment had just 30 minutes left. 

"As far as I know, we had an equipment malfunction," Tyree said. "It can happen. It's very unfortunate, (but) we're not a company that runs from a problem."

Tyree said that until Sunday, his company, Carthage-based R.S. Tyree Pest Control & Bed Bug Be Gone, never had an issue with the treatment, which he finds more effective than chemical methods. To kill the bed bugs, he uses propane convection heaters to raise a home's temperature to 135 degrees. He requires residents to leave during the 6½-hour treatment and removes any flammable items from the home. 

"We do up to 20, 25 apartments at the same time," Tyree said. "We've never had a problem."

Cincinnati Fire District Chief Glenn Coleman said one of the six heaters Tyree was using ignited carpet in a living room, a fire that went unnoticed in the empty home until flames could be seen through the windows. Coleman estimated the damage to the house at $90,000, a total loss. 

A firefighter suffered a minor arm injury and was treated at University Hospital and released, Coleman said.

No residents were injured in the blaze, but Deborah Owens of Clermont County said the loss is a big one for her family. Owens and her husband own the house, and Owens' sister lives on one side of the duplex with her boyfriend. Two other tenants, who are friends of the sister, reside on the other side, Owens said.

"We lost basically a family home," she said. "Most of our family has lived there and the woman we bought it from, all of her family lived there for years." 

The fire was reported at 2:07 p.m. Tenants had been told to be out of house from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

A house next door sustained about $1,000 in damage.

Tyree said his small company has insurance. 

"I would do anything I could to fix it," he said.