Man dies in Walton apartment fire

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarWalton firefighters Cody Wood, right, and Derrick Cetta fold a salvage tarp at the scene of a fatal fire at 22 Benton Avenue. Officials said Phillip Kurt, 66, died in the upstairs apartment, top right, during the fire.

A fire that broke out early Monday morning in the Delaware County village of Walton killed a 66-year-old man named Phillip Kurt, according to officials.

A family member and several acquaintances said Monday that Kurt was well-liked, and had southern roots and many friends.

The fire broke out at about 4 a.m. at a two-story house at 22 Benton Ave, according to Dale Downin, deputy fire coordinator with Delaware County Emergency Services. There are four apartments in the building, and the fire started in an upstairs apartment, Downin said.

During the process of extinguishing the blaze, firefighters found Kurt — a resident of one of the upstairs apartments — deceased, according to a media release from the Walton Police Department.

The blaze was reported by a downstairs neighbor who “heard something bang” and was suspicious, Downin said. Other neighbors saw smoke coming out of the building. The cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation, Downin said.

The Walton Fire Department was assisted at the scene by firefighters from Walton, Trout Creek and Delhi, who helped battle the blaze until containing it at about 6:30 a.m., according to Downin. Delaware County's emergency services personnel and sheriff's deputies also responded, as well as state fire investigators.

Officials were at the scene of the fire well into the afternoon Monday investigating, Downin said. Members of the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control are investigating the cause of the blaze along with the Delaware County Fire Investigations Team, Delaware County Sheriff's Department and the Walton Police Department, according to the media release.

Downin said the fire was difficult to knock down because it traveled from the top floor into the roof area, and there are multiple roofs on the building.

“The firefighters had a hard time,” Downin said, “but they did a really good job containing it to the one area."

The cause of the fire is not suspicious and no one else was hurt, Downin said. Because of smoke and water damage, the building's three other apartments will be uninhabitable for some time, he added.

Steve Armstrong, the owner of 22 Benton Ave., said Kurt had lived in the second-floor apartment for several years and was a good tenant.

“He was a good guy,” Armstrong said Monday after visiting his building and assessing the damage. “He loved fishing and had a lot of friends.”

Kurt moved to Walton about 30 years ago from West Virginia, according to Armstrong, and lived in the Benton Avenue apartment with his son, Phillip McClenon, who is 37. Armstrong said Kurt also has a daughter, Leslie McClenon.

Armstrong said the apartment building was insured but “not enough to cover the damage.” He said he's not sure whether he will tear it down.

“I'm still in a daze,” said Armstrong, who owns one other rental property and also runs Armstrong's Carpet Cleaning & Pressure Washing, an odd jobs business that does stump grinding, cleaning and hauling of garbage and gravel.

According to Armstrong, Phillip McClenon was staying at his mother's Walton home when the fire occurred.

One of Kurt's family members, who wished to remain anonymous, said Phillip McClenon "lost everything" in the blaze but is being helped out by family members, who are donating clothing and household items.

Kurt had a disability and hadn't worked in "quite a few years," the family member said. When he was employed, he did odd jobs, working at area sawmills, landfills and quarries.

Joan McClenon, who is not related to Phillip or Leslie but lives in Walton, said Kurt lived across the road from her on Mead Street for about seven years. She became friendly with him, she said.

“He was a little guy with a southern drawl,” McClenon said. “For a time, he lived with an elderly man and took care of him. He was very friendly. It's sad to hear this."

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