Heater used to thaw out frozen pipes sparks blaze which destroys Belle family’s home

Dave Marner

BELLE — An attempt to thaw frozen water pipes Jan. 3 in a crawl space ended badly for a Belle family.

Nathan Abel, first assistant chief for the Belle Fire Department, said a diesel-powered heating unit being used in a garage in the 900 block of Eighth Street is believed to have ignited the blaze which destroyed the Rainey Schalk family’s single-level home. Schalk told Abel he was using the heater to unfreeze pipes in the crawl space adjacent to the garage.

“I just made funeral arrangement for my mother yesterday. When will it ever end?” Rainey Schalk said after pulling two rocking chairs off his front porch as firemen pulled out of his burning residence following their initial attack.

Heavy black smoke was billowing out of the east end of the home when Owensville Fire Department volunteer’s arrived  to the call for mutual aide as a northwest wind helped push the spread of the fire across the attic.

“It went up the wall and into the attic,” said Abel. “Once it’s in the attic like that it’s hard to stop.”

As firemen from Owensville joined in on the attack, two firemen from Belle were at the back of the residence attacking from the rear of the garage. Fire had already burned through the roofline and the wind quickly fanned the blaze.

The firemen moved to the west end of the garage and resumed their attack as firemen gained access to the front of the garage by breaking down the metal overhead doors. 

“It was already pushing smoke pretty heavy when we arrived,” said Abel. “It doesn’t take long in a steady wind like that. That wind didn’t help us any.”

Volunteers from Bland, Vichy and Linn would join in on the effort which ultimately salvaged a few pieces of furniture.

Cold weather caused problems with equipment. Firemen changed out a broken nozzle early in the fire-fighting efforts. Firemen also had to change out the pump used to draw water from a portable pond as problems developed with the drafting process. Firemen were working in 15-degree weather with winds of 15 to 20 miles per hour.

Rainey Schalk’s sister, Sherree Burkholder, told The Maries County Advocate the Belle, Bland and Vienna communities have been great in their response to her brother’s family following the loss of their home and belongings in the fire.

Burkholder, said the family has what it needs to survive now as they have clothes to wear, food, and a place to live until they can rebuild.

“The community has been wonderful and everything is so greatly appreciated,” Burkholder said.

Many people brought items and money to Burkholder’s home and she got them to the Schalk family. The plan now is to renovate Rainey’s garage for them to be able to live in it until he can rebuild their home. It will take some time but the family is okay, Burkholder said.

(With reporting by Laura Schiermeier of The Maries County Advocate’s staff).