Last Saturday afternoon, Kiowa County native George Yohn's nearly 100-year-old farmhouse was destroyed by fire. Yohn escaped the blaze unharmed in part by a nearby fire in Belvidere and a group of Greensburg firefighters who were on their way back Greensburg.
Last Saturday fire crews responded to an 11:15 a.m. fire call at Dick Robbins ranch in Belvedere.
According to Kiowa County Fire Chief Jay Koehn, the fire burned for approximately 30 minutes and was caused by a trencher. The fire burned an estimated 40 acres and no damage to structures or injuries were reported.
"We still had a couple of units [in Belvedere], but the Greensburg units were on their way back when we saw the smoke," said Kiowa County Fire Chief Jay Koehn.
Koehn and Greensburg fire trucks were driving east towards Greensburg when they saw the fire at Yohn's farmhouse, located about six miles north on the Brenham blacktop.
"We are very fortunate that he is still with us," said Koehn. "He was still in the house when the fireman got there and the house was on fire."
Firefighter Brendan Jantz and a neighbor were the first people in the house and found the elderly Yohn in his living room.
Koehn said he was not sure if Yohn knew the house was on fire, but that Yohn had asked Jantz if he could grab some clothes before he was taken to safety. "It was tough for him," added Koehn.
Koehn said they had attempted to put out the fire, but that it eventually engulfed the entire house. Firefighters from Comanche and Pratt counties assisted with the fire, which burned the entire house and a half-mile wide swath of land that stretched a mile north.
Koehn also said that eight Sunflower Electric-owned power poles were damaged in the blaze and that he estimates the fire to be "real costly."
He suspects that trash burning was responsible for starting the fire, although the county issued a burn ban last week.
"We have a burn ban on, and it seems he violated that burn ban," said Koehn. "He didn't call in [to the Sheriff's station] or he would have been told it was on. Every time we have a burn ban he calls and complains because he can't burn his trash. He's not the only one. People need to know how dangerous it is right now."
Crews battled the fire for more than four hours, finally extinguishing it at about 4:30 p.m.
"He's doing real good, he's in good spirits," said Mr. Yohn's son Rex on Monday afternoon. "He was able to walk away and he wasn't hurt. I'll admit it was a sick feeling, when I first drove up the driveway. That's my home, I grew up there. We did lose the house and all of the contents, but stuff can be replaced. We can start over. It's gone, but it's a material thing."
Page 2 of 2 - Yohn, who now lives in Newton, and his 91-year-old father were driving to Kansas City on Monday to take part in the Veterans Honor flight, a day trip to Washington for American World War II veterans.
"He had this planned for more than a month," he said when asked why his dad would take the trip less than 24 hours after he lost nearly everything he owned.
Television stations picked up on the story and both Yohns were featured in stories about the honor flight and the house fire on KAKE and Fox4.
"When he gets back we'll start on applications for him to live in," said Yohn. "We've got a million and one things to do. We've talked to family members and he'll have a place to live, no problem. It'll take a little bit of time to get over it. When you have a loss like this you are not going to get everything replaced overnight."
Yohn said the house had been built in 1918 just a few feet from the original homestead and had been in the family ever since.
"I really want to say a really big thank you to everybody who stepped up and offered help. Gene, Marylyn, Mike, Victoria, Brandon and Bob. Especially to the Kiowa County, Pratt and Comanche County Fire Departments for all that they've done. You never think about it until something happens, but when everyone else is running out, they are running in. It's phenomenal what they did. My brother Terry and I just can't thank them enough."