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2010-01-21

Blaze destroys Bear Creek home

By Judith Pannebaker

According to Bandera Fire Marshal John Stith, a catastrophe was narrowly averted during a structure fire in the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 14. If residents had failed to exit the burning house quickly after the fire was discovered, “We would have had fatalities,” he said.

“When firefighters arrived on the scene, the house, located off Kerr Road, was entirely engulfed in flames,” Stith said during an interview later that day. This blaze came the closest in his short stint as county fire marshal that could have possibly resulted in serious injuries or even deaths.

One of the occupants suffered a broken ankle after jumping from a second floor stairwell inside the home to escape the flames. “Fire on the stairs made exiting the second floor difficult,” Stith said, explaining that the woman had vaulted over a railing from the second floor.

“Apparently a couple sleeping in an upstairs loft area were awakened by an occupant on the first floor who heard a loud pop coming from the kitchen. At that point, the house had become filled with smoke and fire was already making its way throughout the house,” Stith said.

Occupants of the home included four adults, a 21-month-old child and 2-month-old baby. Luckily, the toddler and infant had been sleeping on the first floor with their mother.

Two units with Bandera County EMS transported all occupants to Boerne Methodist Hospital. Everyone escaped with just minor injuries, including some burns and the broken ankle.

“I can’t say enough about the emergency personnel who respond to these late night fires,” Stith said. “They not only help the people involved in the fire, but also routinely offer assistance and relief to firefighters on the call.”

He also offered thanks to pharmacists at Boyle’s Pharmacy for filling the needed prescriptions, Helping Hand Crisis Center for providing funds for the medications and also supplying needed clothing and baby items and the Red Cross for arranging for vouchers for the families to stay at the Flying L temporarily.

After arriving to find the two-story wooden house completely engulfed, firefighters concentrated on ensuring no occupants remained in the building and containing the blaze, Stith said. “Several trees were on fire and we didn’t want the fire to spread to adjacent structures just a short distance away,” he added.
Ironically, the residence, which was completely destroyed, was located literally feet inside the Kerr County line.

“The nearest neighbor made the 9-1-1 call from her land line. Since she lived in Bandera County, the call came through our emergency dispatch,” Stith said. “By the time we figured it out, we were already on the scene and took care of it.” The call, he said, came in at 2 am, with some firefighters remaining at the scene until early the next afternoon.

Volunteers with the Castle Lake Volunteer Fire Department were first to respond, quickly followed by units from Pipe Creek and Bandera and deputies with the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office. Rick Martin of the Pipe Creek VFD served as incident commander.

Stith said that while the cause of the blaze is still under investigation, problems associated with wiring were being examined closely. “With the lingering cold weather, this has become prime fire structure season,” he said. “The biggest problem in Bandera County is overloading of electrical circuits. These people are without a home because of a possible electrical problem.”

Stith added, “The home didn’t even have smoke detectors."