FIGHTING FIRE AND ICE
New Year’s Day started out quietly, however by 4 p.m., Monday, it had become an emergency responders’ nightmare.
It all started with the report of a structure fire at a residence located near 5038 West State Road 340 at 3:59 p.m. When members of Posey and Dick Johnson Township volunteer fire departments arrived, the house was fully engulfed and several other departments were requested to assist with manpower and water tankers, including Brazil City, Center Point, Jackson Township, Cory and Vigo county departments Nevins and Seelyville.
The battle wasn’t only against fire. Arctic temperatures made it difficult to work water pumps and freezing hoses, to get the water to the fire from other sources and then travel on the roads with water tankers made treacherous by ice from the necessary water.
Shortly before 5 p.m. the Indiana Department of Homeland Security was contacted to have a State Fire Marshal respond to the scene to begin an investigation.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Department provided several officers for traffic control.
Around 6:44 p.m. a second structure fire was reported in Carbon, with members of the Van Buren Volunteer Fire Department responding. Members of Dick Johnson left the previous fire to assist at the Carbon fire scene with members of Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Department.
With the temperatures dropping as the sun set, Bridgeton, Rockville, Billmore (from Parke County), Reelsville and Madison Township (out of Putnam County) also arrived to help with manpower and water.
Star Ambulance, along with many personal vehicles belonging to the firefighters and others trying to help, kept their heaters on, creating warm places for firefighters to get inside in attempts to defrost their equipment and thaw out frozen gloves throughout the night.
The house on Linden Street had been renovated, sided and roofed numerous times over the years, Van Buren Fire Chief Tod Haring said heavy equipment had to be called in to tear off the back part of the house so that firefighters could get to the fire inside the walls.
“There’s over 100 years of firefighter experience here tonight, and none of us have seen anything like this,” Haring said about the struggle to contain the electrical fire and fight the extreme weather conditions. “It has been horrible. We already had one engine freeze up,and had to take it back to the fire house.”
Firefighters were on the scene in Carbon for several hours, as well as at State Road 340. However, at 12:10 a.m. on Jan. 2, the fire at SR 340 rekindled and the exhausted and cold firefighters returned.
It wasn’t over for the firefighters in Carbon either as another residence at was reported on fire shortly before 7 a.m. Van Buren along with many of the departments from the night before responded to the house fire at 60 East 5th Street.
Throughout Tuesday firefighters continued to check on the three different fire scenes and the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s investigator searched through the rubble during their investigation which concluded shortly before 4 p.m.
Clay County Coroner Nick French later confirmed a fatality was discovered at the fire scene on State Road 340.
No further information was made available due to pending notification of family members and the ongoing investigation.