Tip Line: 574-344-5557 | news57@abc57.com

State Fire Marshal called in after suspicious house fire

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- Seven St. Joseph County fire departments were called out early this morning to battle a fully engulfed house fire in Wakarusa. The house is located near the intersection of New and Beech roads, which is in Madison Township.


The good news is the house was unoccupied and no one was inside or injured. However, investigators believe how the fire started is suspicious in nature.


The Fire Chief would not elaborate, but did say his crews found some accelerants inside the vacant house which may have been used to start the blaze.


Neighbors who live a couple of blocks away said they saw the blaze that rose above the trees.


"As soon as I saw he flames I was like, I have to get my camera," said Lisa Reel who lives across the street with her husband and two children.


Around 7:15 a.m. Sunday morning neighbors saw the flames and called 911. Reel said her husband woke her up after he discovered the house across the street was on fire.


"The whole top (floor) was on fire," she said.


By the time the Madison Township volunteer Fire Department crews arrived flames were shooting from the second floor.


"That's the time we had called for mutual aid," said Chief Dale Schlarb.


Six other fire departments were called in to assist and Chief Schlarb said they were all needed because there are no fire hydrants in the area.


"We were using tankers and dumping them as fast as they could dump and sending them out to get refilled and bring us more water," Said Schlarb.


He says the old farm house was built in the 1800's and was vacant. The owner Troy Zehner wouldn't go on camera but off camera told ABC 57 that he purchased the house and property back in 2004 and uses the surrounding area to farm corn and soybeans.


Chief Schlarb said, "We found a few suspect items that are in the house and being that it was a vacant house it just seemed kind of odd."


That's why Anita Schultz, the Operations Chief with Southwest Fire was called in along with her partner Sadie.


"Sadie and I are the accelerant detection team and Sadie's job is to find accelerants that may have been used to start a fire," said Chief Schultz.


When Sadie smells an accelerant present she immediately sits and then she is rewarded with food.


Chief Schultz said Sadie did sit several times while walking around the house on Sunday.


"She is telling me that there was some sort of accelerant on the scene, but I think that the Chief had some evidence of that to begin with- so that was not a surprise to us," she said.


"We will have the state fire marshal come in and continue with this investigation," said Chief Schlarb.


Reel said, "It's a shame though from what I understood, the house inside was beautiful."


Chief Schlarb said the home was beautiful inside, it still had all of the original woodwork dating back to the 1800's. He said the house is a total loss.

Share this article: