White smoke billowed up as Ann Trufant, 87, stared at her 123-year-old Garden District home, flames spewing from the windows. Her grandson, Will Trufant, wrapped his arms around her.
Nearby, neighbors and curious bystanders stood transfixed at the corner of Philip and Chestnut streets on Tuesday as firefighters poured water on a blaze that engulfed the home’s third floor and attic.
Will Trufant said that when he heard about the fire, he raced over from his office at Lee Circle. His grandmother, the only one in the home when the fire started about noon, was in the shower at the time.
The stately home, painted light green with white trim, has been in the Trufant family for five generations. Ann Trufant, the family matriarch, lives there with Will’s parents.
“When you grow up in the same home as your grandparents, it’s special.” Will Trufant said.
The room where he grew up, he said, “is on fire right now.”
New Orleans Fire Superintendent Timothy McConnell said firefighters found Ann Trufant outside the home when they arrived.
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“There was too much fire for them to actually get to the third floor,” he said. “It was well ahead of the firefighters when they got on the scene.”
About a half hour after the first call at 12:03 p.m., the blaze had escalated to a four-alarm fire, attracting 27 emergency vehicles and about 50 firefighters, according to the NOFD. About 12:30 p.m., an order was issued to evacuate the building, and it took crews about 90 more minutes to get the fire under control.
Two of the firefighters who were first on the scene suffered minor wounds to their face and neck, McConnell said. Both continued to fight the blaze after being treated by EMS.
McConnell wouldn’t speculate on what caused the fire. He did say that the way old homes were built makes fighting fires harder. “A lot of these old buildings are balloon-framed,” he said. “Which means it doesn’t have fire stops like a modern construction would have.”
Still standing on the corner with her grandson, Ann Trufant wore a red jacket and tan bucket hat as she received hugs and consolation from neighbors.
“I’m just so happy at the response of my neighbors,” she said. “We’re blessed no one was hurt.”
Almost 90 minutes after the fire was first reported, the roof on one side of the home was almost completely gone. The dormer on the opposite side was a charred mess, and flames still flickered from one end of the home.
Looking at the remnants, a neighbor named Suzie, who declined to give her last name, stood with a friend. “It’s sad,” she said. “Nobody else has lived in this house but a Trufant.”
Architect Robert Cangelosi said the home was built in 1892 for Nathaniel Trufant by the architectural firm of Sully and Toledano.
“Thomas Sully did a lot of the homes along St. Charles Avenue,” he said. “(Albert) Toledano was more known as the creative genius, and Sully was the master promoter.”
Cangelosi works around the corner from the home and couldn’t get to his office for a while because traffic was blocked off.
He described it as a Queen Anne-style house. The Historic District Landmarks Commission considers it a “significant rated property,” meaning it is a well-preserved representation of the architectural stylings of the period.
Sully and Toledano designed the New Orleans National Bank at 201 Camp St. in 1885 and the Whitney National Bank building at 619 Gravier St. Sully would later design what is considered New Orleans’ first steel-framed skyscraper — the Hennen Building at 201 Carondelet St., built in 1895.
When the American Institute of Architects held its national convention in New Orleans a few years ago, Cangelosi gave a tour of the Garden District to his fellow architects.
He said one of the stops on the walking tour was the Trufant home.
Follow Benjamin Oreskes on Twitter, @boreskes.