Tough Conditions

Area firefighters battle for control of a residential structure fire in the 1900 block of Dawson Smith Road that was reported shortly after 6 p.m. on Tuesday. The blaze was the first of two massive fires — the other just after midnight in the 6000 block of West 500 North — that kept firefighters busy throughout the night in frigid, single-digit temperatures. There were no injuries but both homes were fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived and were total losses.

Two Jefferson County homes were destroyed by separate fires on Tuesday night as firefighters battled against bitter cold temperatures and deep snow following the winter storm that passed through the county earlier in the day.

Madison Township fire chief Robert Black had high praise for the efforts firefighters gave under demanding conditions against fires that were well underway by the time they arrived.

“It was a tough night, but they kept after it. Our guys stayed strong and our girls did too. Our men and women in the fire department stood on top in the heat,” he said.

Firefighters were first dispatched to the 1900 block of West Dawson Smith Road in Madison Township at 6:02 p.m. Black said firefighters were there on the scene until around 10 p.m. before returning to the firehouse to clean up and defrost their equipment. They had completed that task by only a half-hour when they were called back out at 12:02 a.m. to assist Kent Fire Department with a structure fire in the 6000 block of West 500 North in Smyrna Township.

“By far, it was an outstanding effort” by all involved, said Black. “They met the conditions that we were dealt with” and worked hard in fighting the fires.

Black said he was at the Madison Township firehouse at the time the first fire was reported at the West Dawson Smith Road home of Brandon Alexander and Sarah Morgan, who were not at home when the blaze began, and by essentially being on standby, it allowed for a quick response.

While fighting the fire a sound like an explosion was heard but the cause of the fire is still under investigation. He said the structure is a pre-fabricated home, and had “a roof like there is on a trailer,” a style of construction that makes fires more difficult to access and control.

Firefighters were battling the fire inside the house when the roof began to collapse so “they had to back out and evaluate. The smoke began changing colors, and the fire really took off,” he said. As the fire began to dissipate, a thermal imaging camera was used to help find hot spots and make sure the fire was totally out. All four walls of the house were left standing, but he said the home was a total loss with the roof completely gone.

Black said firefighters were able to salvage some photographs, clothes and important documents for the family.

“We try to serve the community if we can, and salvage what we can that’s important to them,” Black said. “It helps them deal with their grief.”

County highway department workers helped salt roads and keep highways safe for tanker trucks hauling water to the scene. Madison Township, Rykers Ridge and Dupont fire departments all had tankers and firefighters on the scene. Hanover Fire Department was also there with its first responder truck to provide refreshments and other support to firefighters.

Black said the house on West 500 North, owned by Bob Ford, was “totally engulfed” when Madison Township arrived on scene to assist Kent Fire Department. He noted the occupants discovered the fire when there was a malfunction in an oxygen machine but the exact cause of the blaze is still under investigation and could have been an electrical malfunction or something else.

Black said Ford lived at the home with two other people and all three were able to escape the fire unharmed.

“It was an older home,” said Black, and didn’t have the protections in place in the walls that newer homes have to slow the spread of fire. Once the fire got into the walls, it was difficult to stop and there was no preventing it from destroying the home.

“Even with the conditions, it was a losing battle, but we still did our due diligence and worked to do the right things to try to put the fire out,” Black said. Firefighters were on the scene until 3 a.m. before heading back to the station to cleanup up equipment once again. That made for a long day for all Madison Township firefighters. By 9 a.m. Wednesday, Black said he had gotten about 45 minutes sleep over the previous 24 hours.

“They did an excellent, excellent job,” Black said, of the firefighters, dispatchers, highway workers and everyone involved. While neither home could be saved the firefighters made the best out of a bad situation for all involved and there were no injuries in either blaze.