Last night, a St. Joseph County man was burning debris in a pile in his backyard. Today he watched helplessly as his home went up in flames.
Officials believe there is a direct relationship between the small fire in the back yard last night and the big fire that destroyed the home at 53843 Buckeye Road today.
“I asked the homeowner, I told him that we’d been under, wasn’t he aware we’ve been under a burn ban since last Friday, and he kind of gave me a look,” said Fire Marshall Dave Cherrone with the Clay Fire Territory.
Cherrone did say the homeowner may have been traveling recently and was believed to have been unaware of the ban.
Firefighters were called to the home at 11:45 a.m. The scenario they found was the very reason so many northern Indiana counties have imposed burn bans due to the dry conditions.
Not only were the walls of the house blackened and charred, so was much of the grass in the yard.
Investigators talked to a woman who was inside the home with her baby, when the flames reached the building. “After she had heard a second slamming sound which she said sounded like chairs falling over on the patio, is when she looked out the side windows and saw and out the back patio doors and saw black smoke, thick black smoke rolling across the grass, and then up onto the patio,” said Dave Cherrone
The flames apparently built up steam in the back yard before they ever reached the house.
The homeowner told investigators that he had been burning debris in the backyard last night, about 100 feet behind the home, but that the fire appeared to be out.
“And it’s still hot enough, obviously there's no flames visible on it but when we checked with our thermal imager it’s between three and 400 degrees that it’s there and with the gust of wind we had coming it was the perfect spot for those hot ashes to be blown on to the dry grass and the dry grass to spread right up to the wooden deck and then on to the house,” said Cherrone.
Cherrone said that the home owner would not be cited for violating the burn ban, because he had paid a high enough price already.
Cherrone did express the hope that the fire would serve as a wakeup call to the rest of the community, in light of the dangerously dry conditions. “We knew that it would probably happen at some point.”