Fires destroy two county residences, extensive damage reported to a third

By: 
Dave Marner

Dennis Epple’s third-generation family home east of Morrison was destroyed by fire on Monday afternoon in sub-freezing weather conditions.

Cliff Rost, assistant chief of the volunteer Morrison Fire Department, said the family burned wood but the cause of fire was undetermined due to the extensive damage.

“It was already out the roof when we got there,” said Rost of the fire call reported at 3:52 p.m. by an Epple family member.

Rost said he didn’t think anyone was at home at the time of the fire.

“You know how these old farm houses are,” he said of the wood-frame structure built in the 1800s which included a log cabin. “It got plenty of ventilation.”

Rost estimated firemen from Morrison, Hermann and Chamois poured 19,000 gallons of water on the structure before leaving the scene at 6:30 p.m. as temperatures continued to plummet into the single digits.

Morrison firemen returned to the scene at 10:30 p.m. and spent two hours extinguishing a wind-blown rekindle. 

“The wind picked up. Everything was ice-covered,” said Rost of their effort to prevent fire from reaching two nearby outbuildings including a 16x20 utility shed.

“This time of year, it’s super tough on equipment and it’s hard on us,” said Rost.  “The good thing is no one got hurt and no one was home.”

Epple may be known to some south-county residents for helping run livestock shows during the county fair.

Morrison firemen and their neighboring community departments hauled water from about four miles away out of Morrison’s station. Rost said Morrison’s acquisition about three years ago of a 3,000 gallon tanker was a valuable asset for their small community.

“You have to get water,” said Rost. “This has really helped us. With this weather, this mutual aid with other departments is key.”

‘…way back there’

Within 24 minutes of Morrison being dispatched to their fire, Mt. Sterling and Owensville volunteers were toned out for a structure fire off Osage County Road 221 north of Mt. Sterling in the 200 block of Parsons Lane. 

It was 12 degrees out and firemen from the Mt. Sterling station arrived 20 minutes later at 4:36 p.m. to a scene were flames were already coming through the eaves and roof line.  Both occupants of the residence were safely out of the home.

Firemen from the Owensville fire stations arrived at 4:54 p.m.

“It was a pretty good haul,” said Owensville Fire Chief Curtis Aytes. “It was way back there.”

The house is owned by Dennis Geohegen of St. Louis. Harry Potts was listed as the renter, according to the Owensville Fire Department’s report.

Aytes said the upper level of the wood-frame two-house located near the Heckman Bend area of the Gasconade River burned away. Firemen from Hermann’s Swiss station and Linn assisted the Mt. Sterling and Owensville volunteers. Hermann volunteers brought a load of water before being released to assist with the fire east of Morrison. Linn sent a tanker crew.

Aytes said a wood stove in the kitchen was connected to a chimney in the interior of the approximately 100-year-old “typical farmhouse” of “balloon-frame construction.”

“They had a flue fire which got outside the flue and into the wall,” said Aytes. “It went right up into the second story.”

That type of construction, he said, has framing which extends from the basement sill all the way up to the rafters on the second floor. There are no fire breaks in the walls.

Firemen drafted water from a pond after breaking a hole through the ice.

“We drafted water from a pond on the site so water supply wasn’t really a problem,” said Aytes. “It was just bitterly cold temperatures. Nothing wants to work right when it’s that cold.”

It had dropped to 8 degrees by the time the command post left the scene at 7:05 p.m.

G-RFPD has quick response 

to early-morning call Saturday

An early-morning fire at Marvin and Judy Willimann’s residence on U.S. 50 east of Rosebud caused extensive damage to the couple’s kitchen and living room but was extinguished before it burned through the roof.

Marvin said he awoke around 4 a.m. use the bathroom and noticed that some lamps which are usually on in the living room were off. He checked his breakers which had been tripped, reset them, but then the power went out completely. His wife awoke and heard crackling sounds overhead in the kitchen.

Sometime around 4:30, he wasn’t sure of the exact time, he said he called for the Gerald-Rosebud Fire Protection to respond. Firemen were toned out at 4:47 a.m. and the first unit on the scene reported heavy smoke in the attic and coming out from underneath the eaves.

“They were here in about five minutes,” said Willimann. “I can’t thank them enough.”

Fire above the plaster-over-drywall ceiling was burning through the ceiling joists but never got through to the roofline. Firemen had to pulled down extensive sections of the ceiling in those two rooms and cut out sections of several joists to extinguish the fire. The couple will be able to make repairs.

“The trucks got out exceptionally fast that night and had they arrived five minutes later the fire would have done much more damage,” said Gerald-Rosebud’s Deputy Chief Warren Weiss.

Probable cause of the fire was ruled as electrical in nature, according to Weiss who noted the Willimanns reported their breakers were tripped when they awoke and that they smelled an electrical odor.

Firemen from the Beaufort-Leslie, Owensville, and New Haven-Berger departments also responded to assist the Gerald-Rosebud firemen. Firemen were on the scene until 7 a.m. and U.S. 50 was closed between Route T and Danz Road for several hours as traffic was diverted around fire-fighting equipment staged on the highway.

“It was a good save,” Weiss said. 

(With reporting by Linda Trest of The Republican’s staff).