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Published: Tuesday, 1/15/2002

Fire guts Lima-area house, leaves couple, dogs homeless

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LIMA, Ohio - A Shawnee Township couple escaped from a burning house early yesterday when fire and burglar alarms summoned police to their door.

An officer's knock awakened Steve and Karyn Cook about 2:45 a.m., allowing the stunned and sleepy couple to flee to safety with their two dogs. Fire officials said a faulty chimney flue caused a fire that spread into the attic, destroying the house at 158 Tolowa Trail.

Damage to the house and its contents was estimated at $200,000. No one was hurt.

“They were in bed sleeping, and the only way they knew anything was wrong was when the police officer went to the door and woke them up,” said Mark Biedenharn, a Shawnee Township fire investigator. “They were sound asleep, and if it wasn't for the fire alarm and the burglar alarm, it would have been pretty unfortunate.”

Despite the flames shooting out of the roof of their house, the Cooks had no idea they were in danger.

“When the officer told them, `Your house is on fire, you've got to get out,' they were kind of like, `You've got to be joking,'” Mr. Biedenharn said. “It threw them for a loop.”

Township Police Chief Jim Wertz said his department dispatched a patrol car to the Cook residence at 2:35 a.m. in response to the burglar alarm.

Sgt. Jack Strahm drove to the house, saw the flames, and began frantically trying to rouse whoever was inside.

“He was banging on the door, trying to get the residents awake, and when he shone his flashlight through the window he could see there was smoke in the house, and two dogs,” Chief Wertz said. “By seeing the dogs were still alive, he was hopeful that the people were also. He was just preparing to force entry when he saw the man come to the door.”

Mr. Biedenharn said firefighters worked for two hours to control the blaze and remained on the scene until about 10 a.m. to douse hot spots.

The Cooks had lit a fire in their fireplace earlier in the day and told authorities little more than embers was left when they went to bed. But Mr. Biedenharn said a faulty flue pipe allowed a fire to start inside the chimney and shoot into the attic.

“The chimney flue, the pipe there separated, and creosote and all that got in back behind the brick and ignited,” he said. “We figure it was burning up there for quite some time, at least behind the fireplace.”

The Cooks could not be reached for comment. Authorities said they didn't know where the now-homeless couple was staying. “They're very fortunate,” Chief Wertz said.



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