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Grove Street houses up in flames

Pictured is 364 W. Grove Street or the former Cain house going up in flames Saturday morning. 1 / 2
What used to be the house at 372 W. Grove St. (Herald photos by Angie Nelson). 2 / 2

Two more Grove Street houses in Ellsworth went up in flames Saturday morning.

364 and 372 W. Grove St. were torched by the Ellsworth Fire Department as part of a controlled burn. The fires started at 7 a.m. and lasted most of the morning.

364 W. Grove St. was purchased by Pierce County in 2008 for $190,000 from the Charles and Mary Cain estate. The county purchased 372 W. Grove in 2003 for $127,000 from Randall Hansen.

The two houses sit on an estimated three-acre parcel, east of the Blue Building, and have stirred up gossip and debate like no other topic within the county over the last 10 years.

372 W. Grove was the first house the county purchased in March 2003. Later that year, 344 W. Grove was purchased for $130,000 and was demolished in 2005.

In April 2010, 388 and 420 W. Grove St. were purchased for $360,000 from Doug and Lori Dodge, who a month earlier purchased the land for $35,000 from T. Gregory Amann. Those two houses went up in flames in December 2011.

The purchase from the Dodges drew the ire of many county taxpayers back then (and likely still, to this day). Paul Barkla, the then-county board chairman, defended the purchase in a Herald story by saying, “…We had an opportunity to put together a whole campus plan, and we chose to do it. I think we acted with prudence.”

When the houses were being purchased, the county used the rationale for purchasing the land as an opportunity to expand the Pierce County Fairgrounds. That rationale has been put to the wayside in the last 18 months, as the houses’ location is one of the leading sites for the new Pierce County Jail to be built.