Chesterton Tribune



Firefighters say Burns Harbor house fire caused by smoking materials

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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.

Also sustaining 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.

A coordinated 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.



Posted 5/16/2016





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