Angel Murtaugh was taking photos at her home when she first noticed the fire outside of her neighbor's house Monday afternoon in the Lakeland subdivision south of Blair.
“I turned around and all I could see was black smoke,” she said.
The woman yelled for her husband, Randy, and the two attempted to put out the fire, which she described as “tiny.” Murtaugh said it appeared leaves were on fire.
“I just kept looking for a hose,” she said.
The couple headed for the front of the house to get the residents out. Murtaugh said the owner of the home is paralyzed and resides with two live-in aides. A woman and her dog were inside at the time. The homeowner was not.
“We were worried about him, but he wasn't there,” she said.
Five departments — Fort Calhoun, Kennard, Blair, Bennington and Irvington — responded to the blaze just before 1 p.m. at 11453 Valley View Drive. The Nebraska State Fire Marshal and Washington County sheriff's deputies also were on scene.
Fort Calhoun Fire Chief Dan Mallory said the back side of the house was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived. The fire had also breeched through a bedroom window.
“We still made an interior attack and they got down the hall and tried to get that fire knocked down, but they encountered a hole in the floor where it burned through from the basement so they could only go so far,” Mallory said.
Everyone was out of the house when firefighters arrived. Mallory said the fire appeared to have started on the outside of the house. High winds caused the fire to spread quickly. The house was a total loss.
“With the wind we had today, there was really no slowing it down before we got here,” Mallory said. “It took off pretty fast.”
The Nebraska State Fire Marshal determined the fire was caused by discarded cigarettes in a container behind the house.
“We see that happen quite a bit,” Mallory said Tuesday. “It's unfortunate. It's just a simple mistake.”
One firefighter was injured fighting the blaze, Mallory said. He received minor burns to his ear.
Dozens of Lakeland residents watched as the house burned. Neighbors reported hearing a loud explosion prior to firefighters arriving.
“I thought it was just a firework,” said 16-year-old Paige Ringler, who lives next door. “I looked outside and I didn't see anything. I saw the neighbor over there on her porch, so I looked out and the house was just in flames. There was really dark, black smoke flying everywhere.”
Devon Michalak, who lives in the house behind the house that burned, was sleeping when he heard the explosion.
“I just grabbed my dog and got out,” he said.
The heat from the fire melted the vinyl siding on the side of Michalak's house, which he shares with his parents.
Mallory said the explosion was likely due to a lawn mower or propane tank for a grill, which was under the deck.
Zane Kern, who lives across the street was unaware of the fire until his little sister yelled out.
“I heard some popping sounds and stuff and then I called the police,” he said. “The back porch was just on fire when I looked out there but it started to get worse.”