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Wood stove procedure blamed for home fire
Hot ashes from a wood stove caused this house fire Monday in Dubois. Photo by Christine Smith/Dubois Frontier

Wood stove procedure blamed for fire at Dubois rental house

Jan 8, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Officials said a fire that destroyed much of a rental home Monday in Dubois was caused by the improper removal of hot ashes from a wood stove.

No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported at about 2:30 p.m. Monday from the 600 block of South First Street in the mountain town. The property is owned by the Chinook Winds Motel, but Dubois fire chief Mike Franchini said the incident took place at a single-family, log-framed building being rented out to a single, male occupant.

"He was there at the time of the fire," Franchini said. "He was at home and happened to notice smoke in his living room, so he started walking around the house. When he got to the bedroom he noticed heavy smoke in there, then he went outside and saw the fire."

When emergency responders arrived on scene, Franchini said they found a working structure fire with heavy involvement at the southwest corner of the building. He said the first line of firefighters attacked the blaze from the inside of the house, while others ventilated the building from the roof to let some smoke escape.

"That allowed firefighters to remain in the interior," Franchini said, adding, "We had heavy smoke conditions."

Crews also were hampered by winds blowing at about 40 miles per hour, he said, and the building had undergone several remodels in the past that further complicated firefighting efforts.

Regardless, Franchini said the blaze was under control by 4 p.m., and all units were home by 6:10 p.m. The crew included 12 firefighters, three engines and a rescue truck from Dubois as well as four firefighters and two mutual aid engines from the Fremont County Fire Protection District.

Hot ash safety

Franchini said the fire mostly burned within the home's walls, ceiling and attic space and caused heavy fire, heat and smoke damage to the entire structure, especially the southwest corner.

"In the bedroom where the fire had spread, (there was) heavy, heavy fire damage," Franchini said. "There's probably not much salvageable on that end of the building."

A fire investigator determined the blaze began after the occupant cleaned out his fireplace that day. The man had reportedly thrown the ashes from the fireplace outside, and the wind had blown a hot ember into a pile of leaves under his deck.

"The fire spread under the house and into the interior walls," Franchini said. "This was due to the age of the building. It was a very old, log building, and it had open wall space."

He reminded residents to be careful when disposing of hot ashes near their homes. According to Franchini, people should place the ashes outside in a covered, metal container far away from any combustible material.

Plastic containers can melt, he explained, recalling a similar incident that took place on Christmas Day elsewhere in Dubois.

"Someone who cleaned out their wood stove placed the ashes in a plastic bucket and put it on their deck next to their firewood stack," Franchini said.

The family left the area and returned to find a small blaze on their property.

"They arrived home just in the nick of time -- the fire had just started," Franchini said. "If they had been 15 minutes later, they would have lost their house."

He said people should let hot ashes sit outside until they are cold, or even until the next time the fireplace needs cleaning. The ashes should not be spread out on the ground.

"If you are going to spread them out, I'd say rinse them down with water," Franchini said.

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