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Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

Local family escapes as fire damages home

By Shelley Grieshop

Firefighters from four area departments battle a fire at a home on East Second S. . .

ROCKFORD - A Rockford mother suffered minor burns to her hands and feet trying to escape a fire that destroyed most of her family's home Tuesday morning.
Tracy Bertke, 156 E. Second St., was taken by ambulance from the scene after fleeing the two-story home with her two young children about 10:15 a.m. No information was available this morning on her condition from Mercer County Community Hospital, Coldwater.
The children, ages 2 and 3, were not injured. A third child of Tracy and Chris Bertke was at school when the fire broke out.
Rockford Fire Chief Ralph Rhoades said three-fourths of the home was gutted in the blaze, which produced large, black clouds of smoke that could be seen for miles. Windows were popping with flames exposed to the outside as the first rescue workers arrived and a crowd of neighbors gathered on the block.
A van in the driveway was heavily charred, a nearby boat was damaged and the siding of a neighbor's home was blistered and peeling from the intense heat.
The fire reportedly began in a room to the front of the home and quickly spread throughout the dwelling. A damage amount has not yet been set; the Bertkes told The Daily Standard the home was insured. The local chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting the now homeless family.
Chris Bertke, who arrived at the home after being summoned from work, said his wife told him she was folding laundry when she noticed the couch had ignited.
"She tried to drag it outside," he said, adding that is how she suffered the burns to her extremities.
Rhoades said Tracy Bertke's attempt to remove the couch likely caused the fire to spread.
"You should never try to remove burning things. Leave it alone and get out," he said.
Tracy Bertke and her children took refuge at a neighbor's house as fire crews from Rockford, Mendon, Chattanooga and Celina arrived on the scene.
Chris Bertke told The Daily Standard that he suspected one of the children may have been playing with a lighter prior to the fire, however, Rhoades could not confirm if that was the origin of the fire.
Rhoades said nearly three dozen firefighters and nine fire trucks were on the scene for approximately three and a half hours. The Rockford department returned several times throughout the day as hot spots rekindled. One of the biggest problems fighting the fire was an initial shortage of manpower, Rhoades said, adding that problem was conquered within the first hour with mutual aid from the surrounding communities.
"There was a lot of heat coming from that house," he added.
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