Ward Jones noticed the paint was blistering on the wall of his Morgan Creek modular home last Saturday morning and saved the house from burning down by busting a hole through the wallboard and emptying two fire extinguishers into the wall.
That gave North Custer volunteer firefighters the time they needed to respond and finish the job, Challis Fire Chief Ray Varney said Monday. “He pretty much saved the trailer with his fire extinguisher.”
Jones was at home with wife Linda, his daughter and granddaughter when the fire started, Varney said. Without Jones’ action, it would have been a different story. Since fire in a mobile home doubles in size every 30 seconds or so, the structure likely would have been fully engulfed by the time firefighters responded from Challis.
The Jones house at 1000 Morgan Creek Road sustained damage to its underside, wall and attic, Varney said, but is repairable. The Joneses are renting a place until their insurance company pays the claim and repairs can begin, the fire chief said.
There were no serious injuries, although Challis ambulance volunteers treated the four members of the Jones family for smoke inhalation and took them to Challis Area Health Center to be checked, Varney said. All were in good shape, he said.
The alarm sounded at 9:16 a.m. and nine firefighters in three engines and a water tanker were on scene around 9:30 a.m., Assistant Chief Larry Garey said.
“We got to it before it really took off or extended into the attic,” he said. Three trucks cleared the scene about 11 a.m. but the fire took off again in the attic and the two remaining firefighters knocked it down, pulled insulation from around the charred area and checked for hot spots with a thermal imager to make sure there wouldn’t be a third start. They cleared the scene around 2:30 p.m.
The fire was caused when the electronic sequencer that turns on the heating elements and blower fan in the furnace, failed, North Custer Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Launna Gunderson said. Varney initially suspected an issue with the electric furnace was responsible for the fire. The failure of the furnace part allowed the heating elements to stay on and overheat to the ignition point.
“They were totally fried,” Gunderson said. When the blower kicked on, hot air was blown through the ducts, igniting dust and other materials, she said.
Flames were initially confined to the furnace ducts and were spreading into the wall when Jones saw the blistering paint and took action. He shut off the breakers to the furnace, knocked the hole in the wall and emptied two fire extinguishers. Shutting down the furnace and its blower prevented more oxygen from feeding flames and blowing smoke into the house. Flames were coming up through the floor seam where the two halves of the double-wide modular home joined, Varney said.
Varney recommends all homeowners follow Jones’ lead and have fire extinguishers on hand. The fire chief also recommends installing battery-powered smoke alarms. The smoke alarms at the Jones house did not sound, probably because they are wired into the electrical system and the breaker was turned off when the fire started. Jones plans to install battery-operated alarms that Gunderson gave him.
“A $10 smoke detector can save your life,” Gunderson said. “People have to know how important they are.” She recommends changing the batteries when the time changes occur, an easy time to remember smoke detector batteries.