Fire severely damages family’s rural heirloom house

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The three-generation home of Russell and Debbie Schroeder, located in rural Canton, was severely damaged by a fire on July 20-a fire that caused smoke and water damage to a family heirloom.

Debbie was working in her office when she smelled smoke about 5 p.m.

“When she went outside, she saw smoke coming out everywhere around the second story of the house,” Russell said.

Russell was in Gypsum cutting silage when the fire occurred. He received a call from Debbie to come home.

“When I talked to her on the phone, I couldn’t tell that it was her,” Russell said. “She was pretty shook up.”

Debbie dialed 911 and tried to spray the house with a garden hose until the firemen arrived.

The first fireman on the scene was Keith Banman, Debbie said. “I just told him I was never so glad to see somebody in my life.”

About 20 firemen from the Goessel, Canton and Moundridge fire departments responded to the scene. It took from 45 minutes to an hour to get the fire under control, according to Larry Jay, Goessel fire chief.

The family dog, Jackie, a lab mix, was hiding inside the home when the fire started.

“After she called 911, Debbie went back in to get the dog to come out of the house, and she wouldn’t come out,” Russell said. “By that time, the house was so full of smoke that she couldn’t see inside.”

But firemen responding to the scene were able to go into the smoke-filled home and rescue the dog.

“She’s just fine,” Russell said. Jackie found a familiar, secure and safe spot in an outbuilding on the property and stayed there until the firemen left.

The fire investigator indicated the fire was started by a cigarette on the front porch of the home.

“It eventually started the porch on fire and then moved to a porch post,” Jay said. The fire traveled through the post and into the attic above the porch. “Just like a chimney, it went right up the side of the house, burned a hole through a closet and went up through and into the attic.”

Russell said he arrived about an hour after the fire started, and he stayed nearby to make sure the yard and outbuildings weren’t in danger of catching fire.

When the firemen said it was safe for him to enter the house and save whatever he could at that point, Russell went inside.

“They were very helpful,” he said. “They were handing out the photos and started coming in and covering up the furniture.

The firemen indicated there were “quite a few hot spots” still in the house, Russell said.

“There were five to 10 men working on it and another five to 10 helping us take out what belongings we could.

“As it turned out, they really didn’t have to put much more water on it after that point. But still, covering the furniture helped for the water damage, because there was water soaking down through.”

There was “extensive” smoke, water and heat damage, Jay said.

“There was probably more heat damage upstairs in the second story than there was fire damage. The fire damage was confined to the porch, up underneath the porch ceiling, the front of the house and up the south side.”

Russell said, “They had to virtually rip out every wall in the house to guarantee there were no hot spots.”

The Canton and Moundridge departments left about 6:30 p.m., and the Goessel department left about 10:45 p.m.

Firemen cautioned the Schroeders to keep an eye on the house that night because the walls were still hot. The couple stayed in a camper on the property.

“Some friends invited us over for supper and a shower,” Russell said. “And by the time we got home, it was 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. But we actually got some sleep that night.”

The Schroeders were able to save about half of their clothing, but the main things they lost were stored in the attic.

“That was all of our Christmas stuff saved up over 40 to 50 years-things from people gone by,” Russell said.

“For the most part, we were real lucky.”

An insurance adjuster estimated the damage to be at least $50,000, Russell said.

He said they were struggling with the decision to restore the house or build a new one.

“We’re not 100-percent done with that decision. But we’re leaning close to deciding to start over.

The original foundation is not in good shape, Russell said, and even if it were, it would still be questionable if it would be wise to restore the home.

“The sentimental attachment to the place makes that a very hard decision, but as far as practicalities are concerned, it’s just really not worth rebuilding,” he said.

Neighbors, firefighters, friends and family were a part of helping the couple get through the days after the fire.

“I don’t want to start naming names, because I wouldn’t want to leave anybody out,” Russell said. “I want to thank everybody that’s offered to help out.”

When asked how he was coping emotionally, Russell said he has accepted that things like this happen.

“We’re all alive, we have most of our belongings, and we’re thankful for that,” he said. “We hear of horrible things happening to people on the news every day, and this isn’t bad compared to what you hear.

“Life goes on.”

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