Wednesday, January 18, 2006

House fire injures Ivan Swaner, prominent valley historian

Express Staff Writer

Ivan Swaner

An electrical fire Saturday night damaged the Warm Springs home of regional historian Ivan Swaner, who was transferred to a Boise hospital for related injuries.

Swaner, 72, was listed Tuesday as a patient at St. Luke's Regional Medical Center in Boise, according to a hospital spokeswoman. She could not immediately provide information on his condition.

According to Swaner's neighbor Sue Engelmann, Swaner suffered smoke inhalation and was taken to St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center Saturday night. While there, she said, he suffered a heart attack and was transferred to St. Luke's in Boise early Sunday morning.

A spokeswoman at St. Luke's south of Ketchum verified that Swaner had been a patient there, but was discharged Sunday. She did not provide information on his condition.

Fire officials were dispatched to Swaner's home, approximately 10 miles from Ketchum out Warm Springs Road, at 7:31 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, said Greg Schwab, chief of fire and emergency medical services for the Ketchum Fire Department.

Two tankers, three engines, an ambulance, a snowplow, a chief's vehicle and 22 fire officials responded to the scene, he said.

A snowstorm that evening caused snow to slide off the home's roof, bending an exterior mast that takes service from the power pole into the home, Schwab said.

"It caused an immediate power loss and sparks," Schwab said.

When emergency personnel arrived at the scene, Swaner and his cat were standing outside the home, Schwab said.

Swaner told fire officials that he had noticed a burning smell coming from the outside of his house and had called 911.

Flames were coming out of the bedroom, but the fire was quickly subdued, Schwab said.

"There wasn't much fire (damage) or water damage," he said. "But there was a lot of smoke damage to the home's contents."

Responders knew of Swaner's collection of historical maps, documents and artifacts, and worked to minimize damage to them.

"Everyone's personal belongings are important," Schwab said. "But we know he's a community-minded member and a historian. We spent a lot of time doing our best to prevent damage. Some things in his collection were saved."

By midnight, the fire was fully quelled.

The home is a modified trailer home that had been encased by a building, Schwab said. Voids between the walls helped the fire spread from the meter box to the structure, he added.

Swaner had kept his driveway clear, which allowed fire trucks to access the home, Schwab said, and his address numbers were prominently displayed.

Schwab reminds people that the quicker emergency personnel can respond, the better chance they have of saving life and property.

Homeowners whose roofs have a tendency for snow slides should keep them clear of snow, he added.

Building Department and Fire Department staff can conduct safety inspections and offer advice on maintaining a secure living space, Schwab said.

"Snow is a big part of our environment and it presents unique challenges," he said.

The Fire Department, partially through funds raised at events such as the annual Firefighters' Ball, helps fire victims by providing food and clothing, Schwab said.

If people want to donate money, Engelmann has established an account in Swaner's name at First Bank of Idaho. Deposits can be made at any Wood River Valley branch.

Swaner is a well-known and recognized figure in Ketchum, with his handlebar moustache and intriguing tales of local history, especially the region's mining heyday.

He has been a political candidate, visitor center volunteer and grand marshal of Ketchum's Wagon Days celebration.

"Ivan didn't have renters' insurance," Schwab said. "That's why we're looking to the public to help out."

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