BEEMONT — Fire believed to have originated from a basement wood furnace destroyed the rural Gerald residence of Dan Chiras late Sunday night.
“Devastating,” said Chiras as firemen attempting to extinguish fire on the lower level of the ranch-style brick home located on a scenic hilltop near the north end of Pin Oak Road. Gary Smith, chief of the Gerald-Rosebud Fire Protection District’s department, said Chiras returned home at around 10:20 p.m. Jan. 9 and reported heavy smoke in the basement of the house.
Three minutes later, Smith said they received word that fire was spreading rapidly throughout the house and shooting out the windows. Smith said when the first firemen arrived, the fire was “fully involved” and grass surrounding the residence was burning.
In windy conditions, Smith said they were initially also concerned about the potential for fire spreading to a nearby pasture. Smith said fire was already burning through the roof when they arrived. Firemen quickly extinguished the several grass fires burning on the west side of the site and went to work to contain the blaze which was already consuming the home.
“There’s not much you can do,” noted Smith of the situation they faced on arrival. “At that point you just try to contain it and not get anybody hurt.”
From a mile outside Gerald, Smith said firemen could see the yellow glow of fire in the nearly moonless night sky. Curtis Aytes of the Owensville department said they noticed a column of smoke rising from the scene when they turned off Highway 19 onto Route ZZ.
“Fire was visible through the roof while we were enroute,” said Smith.
Smith said the fire apparently originated around the wood furnace in the basement. “It doesn’t look suspicious,” said Smith. “It is still under investigation.”
Noting that damage was so extensive, he said Tuesday, “We may not ever know the exact cause of this fire.”
Interior floors and supports were burned away. Firemen also had trouble extinguishing fire where firewood was stacked floor-to-ceiling in a basement wood room located under the back porch. The furnace was vented through a chimney located near the front of the home. The chimney remained standing but walls surrounding it had been pushed in during fire-fighting effort.
Smith said hot spots continued to smolder on Tuesday.
Firemen from the Beaufort-Leslie (7), New Haven-Berger (5), and Owensville (5) departments all contributed man power and equipment in the effort which terminated shortly before midnight. Smith said 14 firefighters from the Gerald-Rosebud force responded. Gerald Area Ambulance District personnel were also on scene. “The guys all worked good,” said Smith of the mutual-aid response. “I can’t ask for a better group of guys down here.”
Chiras said he moved into the house this past April. He has operated the Evergreen Institute Center for Renewable Energy and Green Building on the site since 2008. Chiras, a Ph.D. and author of several books on green building and renewable energy, offers “high-quality hands-on workshops in solar electricity (photovoltaics), wind energy, solar hot water (solar thermal) systems, and passive solar heating and cooling,” according to the center’s web site. He also offers workshops in residential energy efficiency, natural building, straw bale building, natural plasters, and green building. Buildings used as classroom space on the property were not damaged by the fire.
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