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Grandfather dies in attempt to save son-in-law in burning house

A Whitley County house fire claimed the lives of two men, one of whom tried to go in and save the other who was caught inside the burning home, investigators said.

Union Township firefighters stationed in Columbia City were called to the home in Coesse just before midnight Wednesday.

When they arrived at 2480 Barr Street – located in the small town about 15 miles from Fort Wayne – within five minutes of the initial 911 call, they were met by a home engulfed in flames.

“The structure was 100 percent involved,” said Chad Radke, Union Township Fire Department chief. “The roof had collapsed by the time we arrived.”

Firefighters struggled with the cold weather and a winding road that led to the home, Radke said.

They were also told people were in the home but the flames kept firefighters from going inside and trying to save them, he said.

“There was no way to make entry, just due to the sheer involvement of the fire,” Radke said.

The fire continued for about an hour before firefighters brought it under control.

Investigators tried to sort out what might have happened, and relied on three people who made it out alive.

According to Radke, two children, their two grandparents and their father were staying inside the home at the time of the fire.

One of the children awakened the grandparents when the fire started.

The grandparents gathered up the children and left the home, Radke said.

But the grandfather noticed the children’s father – the grandfather’s son-in-law – was not behind them.

So the grandfather went back inside to try to find him. Neither man made it out, Radke said.

Hours later, investigators used a backhoe excavator to begin searching through the debris.

About 4:30 a.m. one body was found in the kitchen; an hour later the other body was found in a back bedroom, Radke said.

The Indiana fire marshal is now leading an investigation, and the Whitley County coroner will release the identities of the men who died, Radke said.

No cause for the fire has been determined, but according to Radke it was so extensive that finding a cause might be impossible.

“There was so much damage,” he said.

The last fatal fire in Union Township occurred in the mid-1980s, Radke said.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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