Fire destroys large garage in HIllsboro

Hillsboro firefighters battled a garage fire during the early morning hours of Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 309 S. Cedar. It was the fourth structural blaze the department has responded to in less than six weeks.

Even though fire personnel were at the scene within minutes following the 911 call, they were unable to save the family dog or the 30-foot by 30-foot metal building and its contents.

Ben Wiebe, property owner, said he and wife Paula woke to the sound of someone frantically ringing their doorbell at about 4:30 a.m.

When they got to the door, the man at the door said he saw smoke behind their house and was having trouble getting through to the 911 dispatch center. Wiebe then used his cell phone and, after two tries, was able to get through. Hillsboro Fire Chief Ben Steketee said one reason for the problem getting to a 911 operator was related to the mobile phones, but that it was being checked out on the dispatcher?s side.

Wiebe said he wasn?t able to get the name of the Good Samaritan who came to the door..

?He told me he had to go because he was running late for work,? Wiebe said. ?He apologized for not being able to stay and help, but we appreciated him taking the time to stop and let us know about the fire.?

In those first few minutes after being made aware of the fire, Wiebe ran to the garage to try to save the family dog, Reba. But it was already too late to enter the structure, he said.

?When I opened the door (to the garage), it was full of smoke and flames,? Wiebe said.

Along with their 2-year-old black Labrador Retriever, who slept in the garage as protection from the cold, were two vehicles: a 1990 Suburban and a 1975 Chevy Nova.

Wiebe, a hunter, said he also had rifles, shotguns and ammunition stored in the garage, along with an acetylene torch, wood-burning stove and other miscellaneous welding equipment.

?Outside the garage was a 1955 Chevy that (firefighters) were able to save,? Wiebe said.

Steketee said three fire trucks at the scene. The brush truck, carrying 300 gallons of water, and a pumper, with 500-gallon capacity, were situated in the alley. The ladder truck was on Cedar Street and connected to the hydrant.

While the firefighters fought the blaze from the alley, the ladder truck was primarily positioned to keep a constant flow of water on the roof.

Two investigators from the Kansas State Fire Marshal?s office in Topeka were called to the scene following this fourth incident.

With four structural fires in about six weeks, Steketee said, it?s a good idea to bring in the experts. ?We are not suspecting foul play,? he said. ?It?s more of a precaution.?

The first incident was a garage fire, reported about 3:20 a.m. Dec. 16 in Lehigh. On Jan. 7, another garage was destroyed in the early morning hours. On. Jan. 21, six days prior to the South Cedar blaze, a fire destroyed a two-story house in Lehigh. In the previous three fires, no people or pets were injured.

Wally Roberts and Jeff Davis, investigators with the Fire Marshal?s office, were in Hillsboro hours after the latest structural fire to determine the cause. Once their investigation is concluded, the results will be posted on the Free Press Web site.

(Free Press photos by Patty Decker)

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