A two-alarm house fire devastated the Jack Mann residence Feb. 17 at the corner of Front Street and Sherwood Avenue in De Smet. Flames were visible above the rooftops from several blocks away.
Fire chief Shawn Wolkow said the fire department in De Smet received notice of the blaze at 1:10 p.m. Firefighters from Lake Preston were also called in to assist. Before the blaze was controlled, it had completely gutted Mann’s two cars and his garage.
“Over half the house is lying on the floor,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty total loss,” he said. Wolkow agreed that smoke damage would likely render unlivable even those parts of the house still standing
Mann was driving to Huron when the fire started but said his ex-wife Dianne was inside at the time feeding her father, Donald Wendel. She stepped out for a moment and saw flames in the rafters and quickly went back in to hustle everyone out of the house.
“I’m just glad it didn’t suck her in. She’s just a little thing. I’m thankful nobody got hurt,” Mann said. Speaking from a hotel room on Monday, Mann said he still felt a little dazed. “That was a day you won’t soon forget. I’d like to.”
Next door neighbor Marlys Kellar said she had just finished in the shower and heard several small explosions outside. She stepped out the north door of her house and was hit with a wall of heat.
“I was waiting for mine to catch,” she said. “If the wind had been out of the north, I‘d have been gone too.” Kellar’s house escaped with some minor chars to the outside paneling.
Mann’s neighbor to the east, Rich Smith, said his place suffered some minor smoke damage. He said there was a haze floating around inside that went away by the morning, but still led him and his family to sleep elsewhere Saturday night. He said he may lose two of his evergreen trees and some of his siding was damaged. He also said that a part of his fence adjacent to the burning garage melted down a little.
Mann is not certain how the fire got started. He said there were some space heaters and battery chargers in the back of the garage where the fire seemed to be centered. Wolkow also said, “I’m guessing it was probably electrical, but I don’t want to speculate.”
Mann said he was very concerned because Wendel was using supplemental oxygen and was storing some tanks inside the house. “I just know it wouldn’t be good if one of those went up. I don’t know how those things explode; they might have gone off in a chain.”
Wolkow said none of the oxygen tanks went up but said some of the explosions might have come from a 100-pound propane bottle sitting next to the house. He said there is a safety valve in those tanks that releases gas as it heats up and the pressure increases. He thought the explosions might have been the bottle venting gas which would then go up in a ball of flame and dissipate until the next release. Wolkow said it might also have been tires popping. Mann thought it could have been pressurized spray paint cans.
Wolkow said everything went pretty smoothly except for a small hiccup when one of the fire hydrants wasn’t working correctly. He said something inside broke and it wouldn’t open up all the way. Two trucks were forced to share a hydrant in front of the house and they also hooked up to one on the next block. Wolkow also said he was disappointed that spectators got as close as they did. He reminded folks to stay 500 feet behind the fire trucks.
Wolkow said he was glad Lake Preston showed up to help. He said they work well together and he appreciated the assistance. “With a house fire like that, it never hurts to have extra hands.”
He also said that local contractors Jake Vincent and Randy Holland generously donated the use of two platform telehandlers which allowed firemen to more effectively attack the blaze in the attic of the house.
Mann said he is fortunate the Red Cross stepped in and arranged for a room to stay in until he gets back on his feet. He added that his neighbors and the rest of the community have also been very supportive. “We’re just so thankful to the fire department and all the people who helped. I just don’t know how to put it in words.”
Posted on 02-22-2018
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