By Margie Wuebker
Flames raced through a Mendon-area home Saturday night destroying virtually everything in its path from furniture and a stereo system to clothing and various memorabilia.
Tenant Shawn Depweg, 6402 state Route 707, was visiting relatives in Celina when a neighbor spotted the flames shortly before 8:15 p.m.
The Mendon Fire Department arrived on the scene and immediately summoned Rockford Fire Department for mutual aid.
"Flames were shooting from the exterior when we pulled in," said Mendon Assistant Fire Chief Darrell Etgen. "It was going pretty good at the time."
Firefighters conducted an aggressive interior attack fearing the 20-year-old tenant might be trapped inside. They experienced "a great deal of relief" upon discovering he was not there, according to Etgen. Firefighters quickly set up a relay system with tanker trucks hauling water from the village to the Union Township scene. Brisk winds drove flames through the house once the fire vented itself through the windows.
Etgen said firefighters found more than they expected while tearing into the interior walls of the old block-style home. The brick exterior covered original clay tiles.
"Those two walls effectively held the heat inside causing more damage in the process," the assistant chief added. "We had no idea about the original wall until we hit tile."
Fifteen firefighters and five fire department vehicles remained on the scene for nearly two hours. They were called back shortly before 6:45 a.m. Sunday when a passerby noted smoke coming from the gutted home.
A 1-by-1 foot section of maple hardwood flooring apparently rekindled. Firefighters again hosed down the floor as well as joists fashioned of rough cut timber. They rolled up their hoses and headed back to the station in less than an hour.
Depweg learned of the blaze when landlord Bob Fetters contacted relatives who in turn relayed the message. He went to the scene and quickly discovered the only things left were the clothes and shoes he was wearing. Fortunately, his dog was penned inside a barn instead of near the home where he had resided the past six months.
"Shawn lost everything," his grandmother Delores Depweg told The Daily Standard this morning. "Everything he treasured has been reduced to a charred mess."
The young man is residing with his grandmother while looking for another place to call home. The family has contacted the Mercer County unit of the American Red Cross for assistance.
Etgen said the cause of the fire remains under investigation and a loss figure has yet to be determined.