A Burns Harbor home
badly damaged in a house fire on New Year’s Eve 2010 was badly damaged again
on Friday, in a fire being blamed on the careless use of smoking materials.
significant damage was the next-door neighbor’s home, after a gusty north
wind caused the fire to jump the property line.
Neither of the
houses--located in the 1100 block of Harbor Way in the Village of Burns
Harbor--was occupied at the time, however, and no firefighter was injured
battling the blaze, Burns Harbor Fire Chief Bill Arney told the
Chesterton Tribune today.
The fire was
discovered, already fully involved, at 8:30 a.m., Arney said. The point of
origin: the rear porch, a two-story structure whose upper story was
partially enclosed. It was the porch’s unusual architecture which
complicated the firefighters’ attack, Arney noted, by acting as a wind
tunnel of sorts, not only funneling the morning’s strong north wind into the
house itself and fanning the flames there but also creating ideal conditions
for the fire to extend to the attic of the neighboring house to the south.
There was one other
complicating factor, Arney added: four propane tanks used for grilling
provided an extra fuel source and gave the blaze a good head start. Those
tanks had ignited and exploded by the time firefighters arrived, Arney said.
In the end six
other departments assisted the BHFD at the scene--Porter, Chesterton,
Liberty Township, Beverly Shores, Portage, and South Haven--and together
they made pretty short work of it, Arney said. While the BHFD, CFD, and
Portage FD tasked their ladder trucks to dousing the fire from above, Arney
was able to get crews into the interior of both homes. “We had the fire
under control in around 45 minutes and managed to contain the fire in the
second house to the attic.”
One other spot of
very good news: firefighters managed to rescue, from the next-door
neighbor’s house, two dogs and Guinea pig.
Damage, though, was
extensive. Arney estimated damage to the structure of the first house at
$260,000 and that to its contents at $100,000. He estimated damage to the
next-door neighbor’s house at $100,000.
The fire has left a
total of 11 people displaced: the six residents of the first house and the
five of the next-door neighbor’s. On Friday, Arney said, the Porter County
Chapter of the American Red Cross was on the scene, providing the two
families with care packages and temporary quarters.
investigation, conducted by the BHFD, the Porter County Fire Investigation
Strike Team, and the State Fire Marshal subsequently determined the fire to
be accidental in nature and caused by smoking materials igniting upholstered
patio furniture, Arney said.
The last time
anyone in the house remembers actually having smoked on the porch was
between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. Friday, that is, two to three hours before the
fire was discovered, Arney said. And though smokers in the house customarily
used a plastic flower pot for the disposal of butts, it isn’t known whether
the flower pot itself ignited and melted onto the furniture or whether a
loose ember blew onto a chair cushion and smoldered there, Arney said.
The house last
burned on Dec. 31, 2010, when an electric panel in the laundry room
short-circuited. Complicating the BHFD’s job on that occasion was the
compressed wood-and-glue composition of the floor joists, which enhanced the
fire’s fuel load and ended up collapsing the ground floor. Total damage,
Arney estimated at the time: $230,000.