Blaze destroys rural Baldwin home
A mid-afternoon fire Thursday destroyed the home of Mark and Toni Hebenstriet just outside of Baldwin City on U.S. Highway 56 just west of the Hilltop Veterinary Clinic.
Although firefighters arrived quickly after the blaze was reported around noon by passersby, there wasn't much chance of saving the brick home that the Hebenstriets had owned only for a short while.
"When you get there and the fire is already going through the roof, you're pretty much stuck to a defensive mode," said Randy DeMerssman, Palmyra Township Fire Chief whose firefighters headed up the effort with plenty of help. "My hats go off to them (the firefighters). They did the best they could with what they had."
By the time firefighters from Palmyra, Baldwin, Willow Springs, Wellsville and even Johnson County arrived, the flames were shooting through the shake shingle roof and were being fed by a brisk 25 mph wind. Firemen dumped as much water as possible on the blaze, but couldn't save the home.
"It's tragic when someone loses their home," said DeMerssman. "I really feel sorry for the family and their loss, but the firemen battled it as hard as we could. I was really proud of the guys who showed up."
Home and contents were a total loss, he said, but could only estimate the damage as "thousands of dollars." The Hebenstriets couldn't be reached for comment, but have told several people that their insurance company has taken very good care of them and they already have an apartment to live in and are doing well.
The couple came to Thursday's scene and were immediately comforted that firefighters were able to save their dog from the blaze. He was the only living thing in the home at the time of the fire.
Firefighters arrived shortly before noon and had the blaze under control by around 3 p.m. In sifting through the damage, it's believed that an electrical short was the cause, DeMerssman said.
"We've pretty much decided it was caused by something electrical in the northeast bedroom," he said. "Going off the burn patterns and where it was in the room, that's what we've come up with. Something either got knocked over or shorted out. It must have caught the bed on fire.
"With no one home and the time of the year with no heating elements involved, that's what it likely is," he said. "The fire had a big jump on the firefighters. You look at that and with passersby finding it, it wouldn't have mattered if there was a full-time, paid fire department to battle this fire. It was too far gone."
Firemen did get one break in battling the blaze. A nearby pond provided a steady supply of water. Otherwise, once the trucks were emptied they would have had to been driven to town to fill up.
"What really worked good was there was a pond nearby to draft from," he said. "That was a good plan by the firefighters."
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