House burns in Lake Mills

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 18, 2006

By Joseph Marks and Nathan Cooper, staff writers

LAKE MILLS, Iowa &045; A fire at 201 N. First Ave. spread quickly, leaving little or nothing to salvage in the 45 minutes before it was put out, observers said.

Police said no one was inside during the fire, which was first reported at 5:12 p.m.

Sgt. Todd Thorson of the Lake Mills Police Department said police are investigating the cause of the fire and whether it was accidental. He said officials are waiting on a report from the fire marshal.

Thorson said he could not assess the damage without entering the house but said it did not look like anything could be saved.

Homeowner Diane Brackey was at work when firefighters called and said the house she shares with her daughter and three grandchildren was burning. Brackey owns the Grand Cafe on Main Street in Lake Mills. She was there with two of her grandchildren, Sarah, 10, and Jacob, 7.

Brackey said her first thought was of her third grandchild, Rachel, 9, who had gone on a walk with friends. Brackey said when Rachel walks with her friends they often go to her room in the home.

Firefighters had not found Rachel in the home and for the next 40 minutes, Brackey said, she searched frantically through the town with friends and family.

When she got the call that Rachel was found planting flowers in a local park, Brackey said, nothing else was important.

&8220;I came back to the house,&8221; she said, &8220;and the fire just didn’t matter. If I’d had all the children I probably would have felt differently. But when you can’t find the children you get your priorities straight.&8221;

Jan Franklin, a neighbor two doors north of the Brackey’s home, was outside just after 5 p.m. when the blaze erupted.

&8220;I was sitting outside,&8221; she said, &8220;and I heard some kind of kaboom. I thought something had hit the side of the house. I said something to the kids, and I looked out and the house was on fire.&8221;

Other spectators reported hearing a loud sound like gunshots soon after the fire began.

Lake Mills firefighter Dave Peterson said he did not hear the sound but suspected it could have been windows breaking from the heat.

About 50 people gathered on the street watching the Brackey home around 6 p.m., including children on bikes and parents with infants in strollers. Except for the still-smoldering house the crowd would have seemed to be simply enjoying one of the first days of summer.

The face of the house was about three-fourths charred and black, beginning from the northwest side. The front of the garage was completely gone, leaving only a black skeleton. Melted white siding drooped off the west side of the building like the layers of a bunched-up blanket.

In front of the house about 10 Lake Mills volunteer firefighters intermingled with 10 more volunteer firefighters from Forest City. Inside only the reflective tape on the firefighters’ uniforms and their flashlights were visible as they searched through the house for hot spots that might re-ignite the flame.

Lake Mills police and ambulance, Winnebago County sheriff’s deputies and Iowa state troopers were also at the scene.

Brackey stood outside with her grandchildren gathered around her, clinging to her oversized T-shirt. Neighbors approached her, one after another, offering clothing, food, and anything else to help.

Ten-year-old Sarah asked Brackey if they would rebuild the home or move in with an uncle. When Brackey said she wasn’t sure, Sarah reminded her the uncle doesn’t have a television.