A rapidly spreading fire totally destroyed the home of Amber Altheide and her five-year-old child Friday morning despite the efforts of the Pulaski, Bloomfield, Drakesville, Floris and Milton Fire Departments.
Altheide, a dispatcher at the Davis County Law Center, was on duty when she took a fire call around 9:50 a.m.
Bryan Amstutz, who lives south of Pulaski, made the call, and when Altheide asked the location of the fire, he replied, “I don’t know the address but it’s Amber Altheide’s house.”
At the time, Amstutz didn’t realize he was talking to Amber, but quickly learned it was her when she broke down upon hearing the news.
Altheide quickly regained her composure and paged all Davis County Fire Departments before Deputy Sheriff Josh Sinnott went to the dispatcher’s station to relieve her.
Amstutz and his father Keith were the first ones at the scene. Altheide’s parents, Jeff and Jo Altheide, and the Pulaski Fire Department quickly followed.
Amstutz said he threw furniture off the porch. Jeff Altheide managed to get a grill and table off the back deck. Deputy Robert Murry arrived and helped Jeff remove a John Deere riding mower — flat tire and all — from the scene.
“But the smoke was rolling out of the house so bad, we couldn’t save anything else,” Jeff said.
Dean Graham, Pulaski Fire Chief, said the house was fully engulfed in flames when his department of six arrived. Nothing could be done to save the house, but the crew did what it could to contain the fire and make sure it didn’t spread to haybales behind the house. Graham said he was worried the wind might change direction and catch the bales on fire.
Adam Bridgman of the Bloomfield Fire Department said the Pulaski Department had their pump set up and two lines spraying the exterior of the house when Bloomfield arrived.
When fighting rural fires, Davis County firefighters usually have to make frequent trips to haul water to the scene, but that was different with this fire.
Bryan Amstutz, with the help of his father and brother Craig, set up an irrigation pump and pumped water from Bryan’s nearby pond into Bloomfield’s 2,000-gallon portatank.
“It took three to hold the irrigation hose down when filling the holding tank because of the pressure,” Bridgman said. “I remember one of them warning, ‘It’s going to kick pretty hard.’
“I was using 500-750 gallons of water per minute,” Bridgman said, “and their irrigation pump was giving us all the water I could use.”
As the fire continued to rage, Bryan Amstutz “became nervous” about his dried cornfield that was only about 60 feet from the flames. His combine was nearby, so he picked the corn closest to the fire to create a buffer.
Keith Amstutz took his excavator to the site and began to push what was remaining of the house into the basement.
JoAnn Altheide said firemen were hosing down the hoses on the excavator to keep them from catching fire and hosed down the windshield because of the smoke. She said Amstutz worked “three hitches” with his excavator, finally leaving the scene after 8 p.m.
Graham said he sent Floris, Drakesville, Bloomfield, and Milton fire departments home around noon so the rest of the county would be covered if needed. The Pulaski Department remained at the scene until about 4 p.m.
Graham was struck by Amber Altheide’s composure during the event. “She showed a lot of bravery in dispatching her own house fire,” he said. “That takes a lot of composure. She deserves a lot of credit for doing that.
“I hope everyone helps her out; they are a good family.”
The Altheide family and Graham were also impressed by the neighbors who turned out to help. JoAnn Altheide estimated 60-70 people were present including EMS, firefighters, and the sheriff’s department.
“Someone drove Amber out, they didn’t want her driving alone,” JoAnn said. “And all of the neighbors were there to lend a hand while family members came to see if there was anything they could do.
Neighbor Chris Payne brought food for the firefighters.
“Someone handed me a sandwich while I was running the truck,” Bridgman said, “and it was well needed.”
The Altheide family said they wanted to give a shout out to the community for pulling together to help the family.
“Lots of people have given clothing and Lavern and Verna Weilbrenner have a small house to rent,” Jeff said.
Kitchenware, small appliances, a refrigerator and furniture are still needed. A twin bed and full-sized bed have been donated but sheets would be welcome.
“It was a good thing this happened in the daytime when no one was home,” JoAnn said. “If this would have happened at night, there is a great chance they would not have been able to get out as fast as it went.”
Though no one was injured, the family’s dog and cat perished in the fire.
Jeff Altheide suspects the fire started in the southwest corner of the basement, but no official cause has been determined.