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2009-01-08

Fire destroys home - no one injured

By Judith Pannebaker

The New Year began inauspiciously for a family living just off FM 3240 - known by county old-timers as Ridge Route.

At approximately 5:45 pm, Saturday, Jan. 3, a neighbor of Charles and Mindi Hauck called 9-1-1 to report a fire at 1137 English Hollow Drive. By the time the crews left at 10 pm, flames had destroyed more than 80 percent of the manufactured home.

An eyewitness described an eerie sight as he watched the blaze begin consuming the residence. “You could see the flames creep across the peak of the roof and along the top of the banister and the bottom of the wooden deck,” he said. “In the twilight, it resembled Christmas lights until you realized you were actually watching a house burn.”

Luckily for nearby residents, high winds occurring earlier in the day had died down by that evening.

In an interview on Monday, Jan. 5, Bandera County Fire Marshal Ralph Dresser said the cause of the fire had not yet been determined. “We think it was electrical, but have not yet finalized our thoughts,” he said. “It was definitely accidental.”

Along with Fire Investigator Bryan Skelly, Dresser had returned to the scene earlier that morning to continue sifting through the charred debris. Skelly, a certified fire and arson investigator, often heads up investigations for insurance companies. Along with being a highly qualified investigator, he also serves as a reserve deputy for the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office.

According to Dresser, one of the Hauck’s neighbors, Spade Condrey, first noticed smoke coming from the home. Since a car was in the driveway, Condrey wanted to make sure none of the family was inside the burning building. “He opened a side door and crawled inside the house and tried to rouse anyone inside,” Dresser explained, adding, “No one was at home when the fire broke out.”

“He did everything in his power to make sure no one was in the home,” Mindi Hauck said. She later learned Condrey had even manned a water hose until the flames kicked up higher and volunteer units arrived. “We can never thank him enough. He’s only been our neighbor for about a month.”

When the blaze began, the Haucks and their children were enjoying a belated Christmas celebration and barbecue with their extended family, which includes Hauck’s parents, Ed and Karen Longhurst.

Just before 6 pm, Hauck received a call informing her that the couple’s home was on fire. “I thought it was a joke at first,” she said later.

Hauck and her husband, along with the Longhursts, arrived at the scene a short time later.

Another neighbor had apparently called in the emergency. “Ten minutes after the call the first fire fighting unit arrived,” Dresser said. He added that volunteer fire departments from Bandera, Medina and Lake Shores had responded to the call. “They did an excellent job and responded quickly to the emergency,” he said.

Good Samaritan Condrey was also instrumental in rescuing several of the Hauck’s dogs. “After he tried to get into the house, he opened the back gate and let our little dog out,” Hauck said. “Eventually he ended up with two of our dogs and a neighbor down the street had a third. We thought she had died in the fire until someone from EMS brought her back to us.”

EMS personnel also saved a fourth dog by administering oxygen to it. “I didn’t know they could do that,” Hauck said, “but I’m glad they did.”

Thanking all her neighbors, she said, “If it hadn’t been for them, we don’t know what we would have done.”

Hauck was also grateful no one was home at the time of the fire. “I would have never have wakened up if it had happened during the night,” she said.

Additionally, Hauck said she would not be surprised if investigations indicated the cause of the blaze was an electrical problem. “We’ve always had electrical problems with that side of the house,” she revealed. “It was weird, but when I was cleaning earlier that day, I thought I smelled something electrical. I looked around but didn’t find anything, so I just blew it off.”

As soon as an insurance adjustor gives an okay, the couple plans to rebuild on the site. “One thing though,” Hauck said, “I’ll never own another mobile home. This time, we’ll build a real house.”