News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 1, 2014

Neighbors pitch in to limit fire damage

Burnett — It may or may not take a village to raise a child, but on Tuesday it took a northern Vigo County village to help prevent a house fire from becoming a neighborhood-destroying inferno.

About  3 p.m., Randy Orndorff got a call from a neighbor reporting smoke coming from a home at the end of Old School House Road, a short lane in Burnett. Orndorff immediately called 911 and ran to the home to knock on the door to see if anyone was inside. He could see smoke coming from under the siding as he checked the home, he said.

Fortunately, no one was inside, and Orndorff began fighting the fire using whatever he could find, including a garden hose, he said.

Despite his efforts, the fire inside the small, one-story home grew larger. Soon, the home’s windows started breaking from the heat, Orndorff said.

Fueled by a stiff north wind, the fire next spread from the home into the nearby woods, which quickly caught fire, he added.

“It just kind of spread through the woods,” Orndorff said.

The burning woods placed two or three other Burnett homes in danger, said Megan Targett, a neighbor who was among those who used whatever means were available to keep the fire from reaching other residences. “We used shovels, rakes, water hoses, axes, water buckets, anything” Targett said.

Allen Targett also fought the fire in the woods by throwing dirt on it with a shovel and by raking leaves to rob the fire of fuel. One of his shoes was burned. “The wind was carrying the fire north,” he said.

As her long-time home was burning, Annie Whitman was several miles away in town when she received a relayed message with the news.

“I thought they were playing an April fool’s joke on me,” Whitman said standing in a grassy area not far from her still-smoldering home. The fire destroyed virtually all of her possessions, including family mementos and other items that can’t be replaced, she said. Sadly, four indoor pet cats could not be accounted for, she said.

“Just the clothes on my back,” Whitman said describing all she has left in the way of physical possessions. Her home was insured, she said, and she will be staying with family.

The day of the fire was also Whitman’s first full day of retirement after working 37 years for the U.S. Postal Service, she said. She had lived in the home since 1981, she said.

Brad Stott, chief of the Otter Creek Fire Department, who was at the scene directing crews, said it was too soon Tuesday evening to know what caused the blaze. The fire was first noticed sometime around 3 p.m. and was essentially extinguished by firefighters by 4:30 p.m.

It appeared the home was a total loss, Stott said as his crew sent streams of water into the blackened and exposed front of the house and onto the roof to ensure the blaze was permanently out.

“All the neighbors came out with shovels” to keep the fire from spreading, said Linda Jordan, a neighbor who was standing a few doors down from the fire as crews completed their work. “It was flaming up so bad.”

Terry Jordan, Linda’s husband, said flames reached about 25 feet in height at their peak. “It was ablaze all around” the home, he said. “It’s a shame.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com,

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