Woman, 86, safely flees kitchen fire

Staff Reports

A smoke alarm activation provided early warning, allowing a Columbus woman to safely escape her California Street home following an accidental cooking fire.

Columbus firefighters were called to 812 California St. at about 8:35 p.m. Thursday, according to a news release. They found a single-story residence with smoke coming from the interior of the home.

Battalion Chief Mark Ziegler said he discovered fire within the home’s kitchen. Firefighters entering the home encountered high heat and smoke, and spotted fire between an electric range and a refrigerator, the release said. It was quickly extinguished with a minimal amount of water.

Homeowner Jeannine Lear, 86, told investigators that she was preparing to cook food on the stove top and went to another area of the home when she heard an alarm.

Initially believing the alarm to be a carbon monoxide detector, Lear took the portable detector outside, the release said. When she could still hear an alarm coming from inside, Lear went back in and found the kitchen filled with smoke, when she called 911.

Investigators determined that a pan containing grease was inadvertently heated on the stove. It ignited, causing a portion of the plastic range top controls to melt. Flames made contact with a nearby refrigerator and then spread to the wall, the release said.

Fire damage was limited to the kitchen, but smoke damage occurred throughout the home. Both appliances were heavily damaged by fire.

The fire was been ruled accidental, with damages estimated at $15,000, the release said. No injuries were reported.

Lear told investigators that she will be staying with family.

The Columbus Police Department and the Columbus Regional Health ambulance service assisted at the scene.

Firefighters still searching for cause of rural, 7-acre woods fire

Investigators are still looking for the cause of a woods fire that burned about seven acres of private property covered in trees and underbrush west of Columbus.

Harrison Township firefighters were sent to the woods fire in the 14000 block of West Baker Hollow Road at about 2:15 p.m. Wednesday after a caller reported about one acre of land was on fire and close to a building, said Matt Lynch, deputy chief for the German Township Fire Department.

Firefighters found a large fire in a wooded area with steep terrain and several buildings close by, and requested assistance, Lynch said.

Wally Dietz, deputy chief for the Harrison Township Fire Department, said extremely dry conditions contributed to the fire spreading rapidly.

Six Bartholomew County fire departments and firefighters from Brown County and Johnson County arrived to help along with firefighters from the Hoosier National Forest. An estimated 45 firefighters worked at the scene into the early evening, Lynch said.

A private helicopter was utilized by the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department to fly over the scene to keep firefighters informed of where the fire was spreading.

The firefighters used brush trucks and brought water to the scene with tanker trucks, but had difficulty at the scene because of the dense woods and the thick underbrush, Lynch said. Firefighters had to approach much of the fire by hand and several burning trees were cut down by firefighters in their efforts to extinguish the fire.

Firefighters had the tree fire under control at 3:53 p.m., Lynch said, but firefighters stayed an additional two hours to extinguish hot spots and to walk the burned area to make sure the fire was entirely out. No buildings were damaged by the fire, firefighters said. Although evacuations of nearby homes were considered, no one was asked to leave their homes.

A Columbus Regional Hospital ambulance was at the scene, although no injuries were reported. The Salvation Army provided refreshments to firefighters who were working at the scene.

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The Columbus Fire Department can assist residents with obtaining a working smoke alarm. Contact the department’s fire prevention bureau at 812-376-2584 or 812-376-2679.