An elderly man died in a fire at his Wolf Lake area home early Wednesday, January 17.
Ralph Wiedman, 73, escaped the blaze, but then reentered his home, where he may have been overcome by smoke, according to the Noble County Sheriff’s Department. His body was found slumped over in a room not far from the front door of the two story wood frame home, located at 0799 S 375 W.
Wiedman’s wife told investigators a smoke detector and barking dog alerted them to the fire, and Wiedman called 911 before the two left the residence. However, Wiedman reportedly went back inside to get the keys to classic cars parked on the property, and didn’t make it back out again. The vehicles, an antique Dodge and a 70’s era Ford Mustang, weren’t damaged.
Wiedman’s wife escaped injury. At least one family dog reportedly died in the fire, although several others were rescued. The home was gutted, and much of its roof burned off.
The cause of the blaze hasn’t been officially determined, but investigators are looking into the possibility that a space heater may have set a rug on fire.
Dispatchers received Wiedman’s 911 call at 3 a.m., and paged the Noble Township Fire Department. Fire Chief Rob Davis responded directly to the scene, arriving just before Sheriff’s Deputies Terry Waikel and Carey Coney. By the time they arrived fire was showing from the rear of the building, and they were unable to get inside because of heavy smoke.
Within moments of the initial page, Davis called for a full response of firefighters and equipment from the Albion and Thorn Creek Fire Departments. Noble County EMS personnel also responded, but the severe fire conditions prevented anyone from being able to save Wiedman. The fire was declared under control an hour and a half after it began, but Wiedman’s body couldn’t be removed right away because of danger from the amount of structural damage to the building. An autopsy was scheduled to determine the exact cause of death.
Flames burned through a live power line and dropped it to the ground, hampering firefighting efforts. Noble REMC crews responded to shut off power.
In addition, extra fire crews had to be brought in and rotated because of cold weather, as temperatures hovered in the teens. Several fire department tankers were also called, shuttling water from a “dry hydrant” connected to a nearby lake. Firefighting operations left water spilled on area roads, so county and state highway crews put sand and salt down, and CR 375W was closed during much of the incident. Sheriff’s Department and Indiana State Police officers helping with traffic control.
Mutual aid fire departments that sent trucks and manpower to the scene came from Churubusco, Cromwell, and Kendallville. Empty fire stations were covered by standby units from the Columbia Township, Ligonier, North Webster, and Syracuse Fire Departments.
Also responding to the scene were investigators for the State Fire Marshal’s Office and Sheriff’s Department, Noble County Coroner’s Office, and Noble County Humane Shelter.