A family of three was displaced Thursday afternoon when a fire ripped through their three-story home on North Cass Street in downtown Middletown.
Owner Karin Newton and her two teenage children were not home when the fire broke out in their 123-year-old house at 206 N. Cass St. just after 2 p.m.
"I was teaching and I kept getting called on my cell phone," the nursing instructor said after firefighters had extinguished the blaze about 3:30 p.m. "Right now, there are just no words."
Newtown said she and her children planned to stay with family tonight.
State fire investigators said they were still searching for the fire's origin and cause several hours later.
Frank Baily, the fire chief of Volunteer Hose Company of Middletown, said flames and heavy smoke were visible on the second-floor when the first firefighters arrived.
"The bulk of the fire was at the rear of the dwelling and caused severe damage," he said. "Luckily, there was no one home at the time."
Nearly 50 firefighters from five area companies battled the blaze through intermittent downpours, even using chainsaws to cut away portions of the roof and exterior walls to reach the flames.
A rear porch that reportedly was recently added to the 3,275-square-foot home appeared to have been completely destroyed.
Preliminary estimates put the cost of the damage at about $75,000.
Officials said a few firefighters suffered minor scrapes and bruises, but no serious injuries were reported.
Responding fire companies included Volunteer Hose, Citizens Hose Company of Smyrna, Odessa Fire Company, Port Penn Volunteer Fire Company and Townsend Fire Company, as well as an ambulance from Delaware City Fire Company and New Castle County paramedics.