House saved from blaze

A local couple is expressing gratitude to family and firefighters for saving their western Bartholomew County home, significantly damaged by fire last week.

Away on a family vacation in northern Alabama, Ben and Erin Wagner were notified by phone June 7 that their home on Youth Camp Road in Harrison Township had caught fire.

Ben Wagner, the executive director at kidscommons museum, and Erin Wagner, a guidance counselor at Northside Middle School, were vacationing in northern Alabama with their four children and other family members when notified by her mother that their home at 11909 W. Youth Camp Road had caught fire.

The parents drove back immediately while Ben Wagner’s parents and other family members cared for their children in Alabama.

Upon their return, the Wagners found that their family room and two bedrooms in the two-story home’s lower level were significantly damaged, Erin Wagner said.

The Wagner home is located south of State Road 46 and west of Interstate 65, almost to the Brown County line.

Gene Wever, Bartholomew County fire inspector and investigator, gave a preliminary estimate of $100,000 in structural damage and $75,000 for personal contents and smoke damage. He said the fire caused electrical and structural damage to the lower level of the home.

Wever said his preliminary investigation suggests that the fire appeared to be caused by a malfunctioning dehumidifier, but that has not been finalized.

“Officially it’s still undetermined,” said Wever, while adding that it appeared to be an accident.

Gene Genth, Erin Wagner’s father who lives next door, came over to feed the Wagners’ dog when he opened the garage door on the home’s main level and heard smoke detectors going off, Erin Wagner said.

“He realized the fire was not on the main level, ran around to the back, saw the door frame was on fire and immediately called 911 and grabbed the garden hose and tried to put out the fire on the door frame,” Wagner said of her father’s action. “He’s my hero.”

The Wagner family dog — Bear, a 4-year-old golden retriever — and other family animals were outside and not injured by the fire, Erin Wagner said.

The Harrison Township Fire Department got the call at 8 a.m. June 7 and arrived with an engine and tanker 11 minutes later, deputy chief Wally Dietz said.

The active fire was out by about 8:20 a.m., and the scene cleared at 10:17 a.m., with the Columbus Township Fire Department assisting, Dietz said.

Erin Wagner was quick to praise her parents, Benita and Gene Genth, and the fire departments for saving her family’s five-bedroom, 3,300-square-feet home, which had been built by her parents in 1978.

“We’re super-thankful for the volunteer fire departments that came so quickly. Had it not been for my mom and dad, I’m pretty sure it would have been a total loss,” she said.

“It was a good stop,” Wever said. “And a water line damaged on the inside helped control part of it — the spread.”

The Harrison fire department’s thermal imaging camera registered that the temperature had only reached 120 degrees when firefighters entered the building, Wever said.

After hearing the sounds of functioning smoke alarms, Genth’s efforts to knock down the fire with a garden hose — before the fire department arrived — also helped, the inspector said.

“While there was a lot of damage, things could have really gone bad,” he said.

The home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, plumbing and electrical system “will need some massive work,” Erin Wagner said.

However, she and her husband plan to rebuild, a process they estimate will take about four months.

In the meantime, they are using her parents’ residence at 11587 W. Youth Camp Road as a home base — and utilizing a family camper.