Fire claims life of Mississippi homeowner, consumes much of historic home built in late 1700s

Published 6:21 am Saturday, March 25, 2023

The homeowner of one of Mississippi’s historic homes dating back to the 17oos is believed to have died in a fire that kept firefighters busy into the night battling a blaze that swept through the house Friday.

Shortly after 5:30 p.m., firefighters responded to a fire at historic Hope Farm at the intersection of Duncan Avenue and Homochitto Streets in Natchez.

After nearly five hours, firefighters believed that they had the fire under control and mostly out, Natchez Fire Chief Robert Arrington reported.

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One person believed to be the homeowner Ethel Banta, 89, was in the home at the time the blaze broke out and did not make it out alive, authorities said.

Adams County Coroner James Lee said the body would be autopsied by the Mississippi Crime Lab next week to confirm the identity.

Those who knew Banta, the mayor and tourism partners and her caretaker, referred to her as a “beautiful lady” and “a Natchez jewel.”

Hope Farm, 147 Homochitto St., was built in the late 1700s and was once the home of the founder of Natchez Pilgrimage and also a Spanish governor, as the sign at the end of the driveway boasts.

“We have extensive damage throughout the home,” Arrington said. “The fire got upstairs and in the roof area and was able to spread up there. We (firefighters) had some minor injuries. One went to the hospital because of the nature of his injuries.”

Arrington said one firefighter had been caught in the debris when the roof fell in.

As for the rest of the firefighters’ injuries, Arrington said there were “none as bad as having a roof collapse on you.”

The home is among the oldest in Natchez and the region, said Historic Natchez Executive Director Carter Burns.

This also made fighting the fire a challenge, Arrington said.

“These older houses, the construction is bad for fire. They hold a lot of heat and a lot of pathways for fire to run to. Also, the timber they used in that time period burns hotter.”

The cause of the fire remains unknown. The state fire marshal will be out in the next day or two to help determine the cause, he said.

“As of this moment, they are still tackling hot spots in the walls. I think they will be done sometime tonight.”

Natchez Police Department and volunteer firefighters helped Natchez Fire Department in the ordeal.

“I want to thank NPD for coming out and helping with traffic control and doing all that they did,” Arrington said. “I also had firefighters off duty come in and help. We’re staffed the way we’re staffed and big fires like this are very taxing on us.”