Cause still unknown for Cedar Street fire

Two investigators with the Kansas State Fire Marshal?s office were unable to determine the cause of an early morning shed fire Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 309 S. Cedar, Hillsboro.

Based on this new information, Hillsboro Police Chief Dan Kinning said Thursday that his office will be assisting state and local fire officials in determining the ?exact? cause of the blaze, and whether it should be ruled accidental or suspicious.

With four structural fires in about six weeks, Hillsboro Fire Chief Ben Steketee said it was a good idea to call in the experts.

?We are not suspecting foul play,? he said. ?It?s more of a precaution.?

Local fire personnel were at the scene within minutes following the 911 call, but 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. 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 were at the scene. The brush truck, carrying 300 gallons of water, and a pumper, with a 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.

As for the investigation to determine the cause, police are needing help from the person driving by the Wiebe?s home at 4:30 a.m., who initially alerted them of the fire.

?We would like the person reporting the fire to please come forward,? Kinning said. ?He can either call us (620-947-3440) or stop by the office (414 N. Ash St.)?

The first of the recent fire incidents included a garage fire reported about 3:20 a.m. Dec. 16 in Lehigh. Another garage was destroyed in the early morning hours Jan. 7. Six days prior to the South Cedar blaze on Jan. 21, a fire destroyed a two-story house in Lehigh.

Anyone with information about this latest fire, or any of the other three incidents, is encouraged to call either the Lehigh Fire Department, 620-483-4176; Hillsboro Fire Department, 620-947-3556, or the Hillsboro Police Department, 620-947-3440.

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