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House fires end 2013, begin 2014

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Unfortunately, a pair of house fires served to ring out the old year and welcome in the new in Bandera County.

On Dec. 30, flames completely destroyed a residence in the 300 block of Lakeshore South. The call to emergency dispatch came in at 9:56 pm. By the time firefighters arrived, a singlewide with a two-story addition was completely engulfed.

A neighbor, who preferred to remain anonymous, reported hearing what sounded like two explosions coming from the property about the time of the fire. However, County Fire Marshal John Stith could not comment on the fire's origin due to the ongoing investigation. He did, however, indicate the fire most likely began in the kitchen area.

The investigation appeared somewhat stymied because Stith was unable to get written consent from the home's occupant to search the area the next day. "You have to obtain a legal consent to search before entering the property," Stith explained. "The next day, I got a verbal consent to go over the property, but when I called the man back to confirm it with the sheriff's office, there was no connection." The occupant of the destroyed residence was John "Scooter" Morgan, 33, according to Bandera County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Matt King.

Lakeshore, Bandera and Pipe Creek VFDs responded to the call. Although unable to save the singlewide, firefighters stopped the fire from engulfing an adjacent structure. "The fire had spread to a second structure, which was only about five or six feet from the singlewide. The second structure sustained about 20 percent damage," Stith said.

Also, the three occupants of the singlewide, who were reportedly sleeping when the fire ignited, suffered only minor injuries. "The man got cut up when he exited the building through a window," Stith said, "and a small child apparently had some burns." He added that all refused treatment by EMS, who also arrived on the scene, along with Red Cross representatives.

According to Stith, everyone in the house was asleep when the wife was wakened by what was described as "a thump."

"She thought a log had rolled out of the fireplace, but when she went into the living room to check, the whole room was on fire," Stith said.

He was unable to interview the occupants at length the night of the fire. After taking refuge in a neighbor's home, they left the site, according to Stith.

Also, it couldn't be ascertained whether homeowners' insurance covered the structure, he added. Apparently the occupant's father owned the house and his son believed the residence was not insured, Stith said.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the fire marshal at 830-796-8461 and 830-460-8183 or email banderafm@indian-creek.net.

Just into the New Year, a fire broke out at 3:25 am, Thursday, Jan. 2, in a large home in the 400 block of East Bear Springs Road.

According to Stith, the that fire started in the fireplace chimney, which had been installed in 2009 or 2010 during the home's construction. When the homeowner called 9-1-1 to report the blaze, home fire alarms could be heard in the background.

"Apparently, they lit a fire and opened a flue. Shortly thereafter, alarms went off throughout the house," Stith said. He postulated that the flames had traveled from the fireplace to between the fireplace and the wall, igniting the house framing. "The flames then continued up to the ceiling, also burning the outside of the house."

At this time, Stith classified the fired as accidental and likely caused by a problem with the fireplace such as cracked mortar.

Responding fire units included Bandera, Pipe Creek and Lakehills.

The house's three occupants apparently suffered no injuries. Stith estimated damage at $25,000.

In a related matter, he noted that all county residents must have their addresses registered with the office of rural addressing - telephone 830-796-8343 - and that all house address numbers should be prominently displayed.

"The first fire department that arrived had some difficulty finding the house," Stith said. "It was set back from the road and not readily visible." He also recommended that after reporting a fire, one occupant should meet the fire department at the road to ensure immediate access to the area.

Pictured: Photo by Fire Marshal John Stith
A lone firefighter is silhouetted against a burning home on Lakeshore South that was 100 percent destroyed by the blaze on Dec. 30.

Photo by Fire Marshal John Stith
The extent of a Dec. 30 structure fire in the Wharton's Dock area can be seen in this photo.