Chesterton Tribune

Brush fire kills Liberty Twp man

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A Liberty Township man attempting a controlled burn on his property died Monday of smoke inhalation when he lost control of the fire.

The badly burned body of Philip H. Kozlowski, 67, of 188 Tratebas Road, was found in a stand of pines at the rear of his property. He was pronounced dead at the scene by Porter County Coroner Roger Kleist.

A spokesperson for Kleist told the Chesterton Tribune that an autopsy conducted this morning determined the cause of Kozlowski’s death to be carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation.

According to the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, Kozlowski’s neighbor to the west, Jeremy Lee, called the 911 Dispatch Center at 11:07 a.m. to report the fire, which Lee said was headed in the direction of his house. He also reported seeing Kozlowski lying on the ground in the woods but being unable to reach him because of the flames.

Emergency responders arrived within minutes, police said, but found Kozlowski already deceased and the fire still burning.

Ray Wesley, assistant chief of the Liberty Township Volunteer Fire Department, said that around 400 gallons of water were used to douse the fire, which by the time firefighters arrived at the scene had involved an area of some two to three acres. Neither Kozlowski’s home—where he lived with his wife—nor Lee’s home was damaged, Wesley said.

The point of origin appears to have been several piles of brush near a pond at the rear—or south end—of his property, Wesley said, and evidence indicates that Kozlowski had been attempting to conduct a controlled burn. But a gusty south wind probably spread the fire beyond his ability to control it into the stand of pines north of the pond, and when it hit the woods “with those dry needles it just took off.”

Jim Branham, director of the Porter County Fire Investigation Strike Team, noted that a 2.5-gallon pressurized water can—empty—was found approximately eight feet from Kozlowski’s body as well as a snow shovel which Kozlowski may have been using to tend the fire.

Branham warned residents about the hazards of brush fires, especially in windy weather and under dry conditions such as the area has been experiencing in recent days.

Not only are controlled burns illegal in Porter County, he said, they are dangerous to life and property. “It’s just not a wise thing to do,” he said.

Local fire departments have been “running crazy” the last few days responding to reports of illegal burns, Branham added.

A PCSP chaplain was sent to the scene to comfort Kozlowski’s wife, police said.


Posted 4/12/2005