Firefighters from Kent, Hanover, Deputy and Madison Township fire departments battled a Christmas morning house fire on County Road 900 West where the occupants were able to safely exit the structure but lost the home and their belongings.
According to Kent Fire Chief Brett Roberts, the call came in at 4:50 a.m. on Dec. 25, when Kent firefighters were paged to a smell of smoke in the home of William Watterson on County Road 900 West. “The owner said they woke up and smelled smoke and it was so thick they couldn’t see down a hallway,” Roberts said.
By the time Roberts and another firefighter arrived as the first responders to the scene, flames were coming through the roof of the home.
Watterson, a City of Madison police officer, safely exited the home with his daughter, Maci, into the frigid morning air with only the clothes on their backs. He then drove his daughter to a neighbor’s home to be out of the cold and then rushed back to the scene to help firefighters pull hoses.
“We saw the flames coming through the roof and called for more backup from Hanover, Deputy and Madison Township and we ran through 1,000 gallons of water before the first tanker truck arrived,” Roberts said. “But it was too far gone and the home was a total loss.”
Firefighters battled the blaze for about 5 1/2 hours and doused the structure with 45,000 gallons of water. The home and its contents and a garage with car inside were all lost in the blaze but firefighters did manage to enter the home long enough to carry out Christmas presents even though they were also soaked in the process.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation but suspicion is on a breaker box in the garage. Roberts said the frigid temperatures, the layout of the home and the fact that the car was in the garage with an unknown amount of fuel complicated the battle.
He said the firefighters were assisted by county and state highway cinder trucks so allow water trucks to transport to the scene. County Road 900 West was drifted in places and water spilling from the trucks quickly froze, too, but a lane was kept open to keep the water rolling. The hydrant water trucks had hoped to draw from near the Kent fire station was frozen by the unusually cold weather so trucks had to haul water from a water tower a short distance further.
Roberts thanked Kent Volunteer, Hanover Fire, Deputy Fire, Madison Township, Jefferson County Highway, Indiana Department of Transportation, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and Madison Police Department for “spending their Christmas helping us with the fire.”
Meanwhile, the Watterson’s neighbor and friend, former Madison Police Officer Jonathon Simpson, has established a gofundme.com page to benefit Watterson and his daughter noting that they lost everything and need clothing, food and personal items over the next several months as they rebuild. The fund had raised about $5,300 of a $10,000 goal by Monday afternoon.
Elsewhere, Hanover and Kent firefighters responded to another fire at 4:40 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 26, on State Road 356 near Lexington after a clothes dryer caught fire inside the home.
“The homeowner acted quickly and got all the clothes out of the dryer and outside and covered them with snow,” Roberts said. “They also got the dryer outside so the fire was out when crews arrived.”
A total of $195,000 in American Rescue Plan funds was given to non-profit agencies throughout Jefferson County earlier this month.
After the non-profits submitted applications for funding, the Commissioners created a scoring spreadsheet and rated applications bases on five categories: 1) Previous funding received from Jefferson County; 2) Revenue lost during COVID-19; 3) Planned use of ARP funds; 4) Amount of Funds in Reserve; and 5) Amount of Funding from Other Government Agencies.
Commissioner David Bramer said even as the applications were screened, there was an effort to provide funds for most non-profits that applied.
“As we developed our plan to use the ARP funds allocated to Jefferson County, our goal was to help those who were impacted significantly by the impact of COVID-19 and those organizations who have been providing assistance to citizens who were or are in need,” Bramer said. “In addition, we wanted to provide financial assistance to those organizations who are not regularly receiving funds from Jefferson County. The thankful responses we have received from many of these non-profit organizations has been encouraging and makes us believe that we were successful in providing some relief to the organizations and the citizens they support.”
The largest disbursement was to the Heritage Trail and the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson County, which both received $20,000. Lifetime Resources received $15,00o while the Ohio Theatre was given $10,000.
There was $8,000 each given to the Canaan Community Academy, Hanover Baptist Church Food Pantry, Hanover United Methodist Church Food Pantry, House of Hope Food Pantry, Indian-Kentuck Food Pantry and Madison Youth Unlimited.
Three organizations were each given $6,000 — Children’s Advocacy Center of Southeastern Indiana, Girls Inc. and Phi Beta Psi Sorority — and recipients receiving $5,000 included Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Indiana, CASA of Jefferson County, Developmental Services Inc., Eleutherian College, Freedom Center, Jefferson County Goodwill Conservation Club, Jefferson County Youth Shelter, Life Choices Clinic of Jefferson County, Madison Music Movement, Madison Area Arts Alliance, Salvation Army and Springdale Cemetery.
A total of $4,000 was given to Big Oaks Conservation Society.
By CAROLYN THOMPSON
and JAKE BLEIBERG
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Millions of people hunkered down against a deep freeze Sunday to ride out the winter storm that has killed at least 34 people across the United States and is expected to claim more lives after trapping some residents inside houses with heaping snow drifts and knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.
The scope of the storm has been nearly unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures plummeted drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.
Travelers’ weather woes are likely to continue, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more expected after a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow. Some 1,707 domestic and international flights were canceled on Sunday as of about 2 p.m. EDT, according to the tracking site FlightAware.
The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions, paralyzing emergency response efforts. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in the city was stranded Saturday and implored people Sunday to respect an ongoing driving ban in the region. Officials said the airport would be shut through Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service said the snow total at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 43 inches (109 centimeters) at 7 a.m. Sunday.
Daylight revealed cars nearly covered by 6-foot snowdrifts and thousands of houses, some adorned in unlit holiday displays, dark from a lack of power. With snow swirling down untouched and impassable streets, forecasters warned that an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow was possible in some areas through early Monday morning amid wind gusts of 40 mph. Police said Sunday evening that there were two “isolated” instances of looting during the storm.
Two people died in their suburban Cheektowaga, New York, homes Friday when emergency crews could not reach them in time to treat their medical conditions. County Executive Mark Poloncarz 10 more people died in Erie County during the storm, including six in Buffalo, and warned there may be more dead.
“Some were found in cars, some were found on the street in snowbanks,” said Poloncarz. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than 2 days.”
Freezing conditions and day-old power outages had Buffalonians scrambling to get to anywhere that had heat amid what Hochul called the longest sustained blizzard conditions ever in the city. But with streets under a thick blanket of white, that wasn’t an option for people like Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after almost 29 hours without electricity.
“There’s one warming shelter, but that would be too far for me to get to. I can’t drive, obviously, because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbit.”
Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario, for Christmas with his daughters Friday when their SUV was trapped in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running, buffeted by wind and nearly buried in snow.
By 4 a.m. Saturday, their fuel nearly gone, Ilunga made a desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched their Pomeranian puppy, following his footprints through drifts.
“If I stay in this car I’m going to die here with my kids,” Ilunga recalled thinking. He cried when the family walked through the shelter doors. “It’s something I will never forget in my life.”
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and lights were steadily being restored across the U.S. According to poweroutage.us, less than 200,000 customers were without power Sunday at 3 p.m. EDT — down from a peak of 1.7 million.
Concerns about rolling blackouts across eastern states subsided Sunday after PJM Interconnection said its utilities could meet the day’s peak electricity demand. The mid-Atlantic grid operator had called for its 65 million consumers to conserve energy amid the freeze Saturday.
In North Carolina, less than 6,500 customers had no power — down from a peak of 485,000. Across New England, power has been restored to tens of thousands with just under 83,000 people, mostly in Maine, still without it. In New York, about 34,000 households were still without power Sunday, including 26,000 in Erie County, where utility crews and hundreds of National Guard troops battled high winds and struggled with getting stuck in the snow.
Storm-related deaths were reported in recent days all over the country: 12 in Erie County, New York, ranging in age from 26 to 93 years old, and another in Niagara County where a 27-year-old man was overcome by carbon monoxide after snow blocked his furnace; 10 in Ohio, including an electrocuted utility worker and those killed in multiple car crashes; six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; a Vermont woman struck by a falling branch; an apparently homeless man found amid Colorado’s subzero temperatures; and a woman who fell through Wisconsin river ice.
In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials on Christmas Day announced that residents must now boil their drinking water due to water lines bursting in the frigid temperatures
In Buffalo, William Kless was up at 3 a.m. Sunday. He called his three children at their mother’s house to wish them Merry Christmas and then headed off on his snowmobile for a second day spent shuttling people from stuck cars and frigid homes to a church operating as a warming shelter.
Through heavy, wind-driven snow, he brought about 15 people to the church in Buffalo on Saturday, he said, including a family of five transported one-by-one. He also got a man in need of dialysis, who had spent 17 hours stranded in his car, back home, where he could receive treatment.
“I just felt like I had to,” Kless said.