Wednesday, January 16, 2008

House fire still under investigation

Tests to be performed on popcorn bags and pine needles

Express Staff Writer

The cause of an all-consuming house fire in Hailey last week is still under investigation.

Hailey Fire Marshal Mike Baledge is continuing with a fire-cause determination investigation in concert with an independent inquiry by the homeowner's insurance company.

The Hailey Fire Department, with aid from Wood River Fire & Rescue and the Bellevue Fire Department, responded to the fire at 431 West Cedar St. about 3:30 a.m Thursday, Jan. 10.

Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman was first on scene and reported flames and smoke spreading rapidly through the house. The fire was contained about 5:30 a.m., but the house was a near-total loss with damages estimated at $400,000.

Baledge said the homeowner, Dick Duncan, reported that a bag of burnt microwave popcorn was dropped on the floor and then ignited some dry Christmas garland. Baledge said the fire appears to have quickly consumed the garland and moved to a Christmas tree, which burned rapidly, igniting the furniture and other combustible materials in the living room.

Baledge said the cause of the fire is "not completely" conclusive.

"We're still undetermined at this point," he said. "It's an odd ignition. I've never heard this story before, but it's believable. It's plausible."

Duncan's insurance company, Safeco, has assigned an investigator who Baledge said is planning to run tests on popcorn bags and tree needles.

"They're working on it, and I'm working on it as well," he said.

No firefighters or other personnel were injured in the fire. Duncan was treated on scene for smoke inhalation, but refused transport. His wife was out of the country.

The Hailey Fire Department is seeking to remind people about the danger of having dried-out Christmas trees, wreaths and garlands inside their homes.

In addition, all local fire departments are requesting that residents clear snow and other obstacles away from the two fire hydrants closest to their homes so they can access them when needed.

"We had to have three people dig out the fire hydrant," Baledge said. "If you have a fire hydrant next to your house, go dig it out."

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