The Ottumwa Courier

Wapello County

January 29, 2013

Lightning strikes, destroys home

Estimated damages total $128,000, including contents of rural home

OTTUMWA — A home south of Ottumwa went up in flames Monday night after it was struck by lightning.

Wapello County Sheriff Deputy Don McMartin said a house fire at 17821 60th St. was reported shortly after 10:30 p.m. Monday.

Wapello County Rural Fire Chief Bryan Ziegler said his department has determined the cause of the fire was a lightning strike, which is uncommon in January.

Firefighters were on the scene from when they first received the call until around 4 a.m. Tuesday.

Ziegler said the house is a total loss.

“When we were coming to the fire, you could tell the house was engulfed in fire, probably a mile-and-a-half away,” he said. “So at that point we called for mutual aid.”

Responding area fire agencies included the Drakesville, Blakesburg, Eddyville and Ottumwa Fire Departments, as well as ORMICS. The five agencies were called to be able to provide enough water and to rotate through the 35 firefighters working at the scene.

While Ziegler said the rural house was not difficult to find, once firefighters began hauling water and working on the home, the gravel roads became muddy, though not impassable.

“It was a neighbor who saw it and reported it,” he said. “But by the time the neighbor noticed it and by the time we got there, it was engulfed in fire.”

By the time firefighters arrived on the scene, all three floors were filled with flames.

“At that point, we knew we couldn’t get close to it to really fight the fire because it was too dangerous for the firefighters from the potential for collapse,” Ziegler said.

And the house did end up collapsing.

According to the assessed value, Ziegler estimates damages totaled more than $128,000, including the contents of the house.

The fire originally started on the north side of the house toward the top floors, he said, “based upon the burn pattern and what we observed when we first got there.”

But the firefighters were able to save a separate, two-car garage, as well as an LP gas tank behind the garage and a small shed north of the house.

“We were able to cool the LP gas tank to keep it from being involved,” he said. “If the garage had caught on fire, there’s a potential for the LP tank to burn, and that could have resulted in an explosion. It doesn’t mean it would have, but it could have.”

While the house is isolated on a dead-end road, Ziegler said it’s up on a hill, so the smoke and flames could be seen throughout the area.

“The whole incident went well as far as what we could do,” he said. “It’s just sad because we didn’t get the call in time to be able to save the house or its contents.”

The family who lived in the home declined help from Red Cross, telling firefighters they could stay with relatives nearby for the time being.

McMartin said no one was in the home at the time of the fire, therefore there were no injuries.

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