OTTUMWA — A structure fire claimed a house and two vehicles Saturday afternoon in the central part of Ottumwa.

The Ottumwa Fire Department received a call at approximately 1:30 p.m. for a fire at 517 Ottumwa St., just east of the Washington Apartments on a hill above the city.

The home's residents managed to escape unharmed, and firefighters were on the scene for about an hour extinguishing flames and smoke on the house, which deputy fire chief Cory Benge determined was a total loss. Also, two vehicles parked in a driveway on the east side of the house also were losses, Benge said.

"At this time it appears the fire started on the outside on the front porch or somewhere around the vehicles. Southeast corner was where it started," he said, noting the cause of the fire was still under investigation. "With the vehicles that close to the house, it's a huge fireload because of all the plastics and fabrics and stuff. That really adds to the damage."

Benge said high winds and low humidity were accelerants to the fire; the National Weather Service posed the risk of elevated fire danger Saturday because of dry conditions and winds around 35 mph.

"If a fire is igniting on a day like today, it can get out of hand really fast," Benge said. "And in a situation like this where you have vehicles, a house and wind involved, that's just a perfect storm for an accelerated fire."

Neither property on either side of the house was damaged, but an evergreen tree east of the property was singed, possibly sparing the property to the east.

The area also has several power lines, but Benge didn't believe those were a threat.

"Power lines may hinder us if we have to put up an aerial. But other than that, we just kind of have to be mindful of them, try not to park the trucks under them," he said. "And if one does fall just to stay away from it."

Also, Benge said was it was important the Central Station was less than a half-mile away.

"Time is of the essence in an emergency, and that's why having a staffed fire department really helps lower the damages anytime there is a fire," he said. "Guys had it knocked down within 15 to 20 minutes."

The Ottumwa Police Department, Ottumwa Regional Health Center, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy also were on the scene.

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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