Iowa Homes Destroyed in Wind-Driven Fire

"There were heavy fire conditions and the firefighters were doing everything they could to control it,"
(Danville Fire Department photo, Facebook)

Michaele Niehaus, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa


May 4–Melissa Cheely and Damion Collins returned to their Oquawka, Illinois, home Saturday evening to find it had been reduced to a charred frame.

“It was all gone by the time I got there,” Cheely said.

The couple had planned to spend the day in Ottumwa helping Cheely’s daughter with a bathroom remodel, but then Cheely got a phone call.

“The kids called and I was just waiting for them to tell me they were joking,” Cheely said, explaining it wasn’t until she spoke to a Henderson County Sheriff’s deputy who was on the scene that reality sunk in. “It was absolutely the worst call I’ve ever had in my life.”

Her 17-year-old son, Jonathan Westfall, and Collins’ 13-year-old son, Konar Collins, had stayed home. The younger of the two accidentally set fire to leaves near their home. The day’s windy and dry conditions caused that fire to spread to the house.

“The wind was not his friend that day,” Cheely said.

Westfall and Konar Collins managed to get the family’s dog and three cats out of the house before they felt it was too dangerous to go back inside. A pet rat died in the fire. In their rush to save their pets, the teens left behind their shoes.

Cheely and Damion Collins rushed home. The fire had consumed family photos, Cheely’s daughter’s artwork, clothing and momentos of her children’s elementary school days. The home she had lived in for the past four years at 2448 Township 1500 East was gone.

The family was assisted by the American Red Cross, which provided them with a hotel for the first night. The home is insured.

Cheely and her family will spend at least the next week in a hotel. The nearest one, however, is 23 miles from home. They hope to be able to rent an RV or camper that they can place at their Oquawka property until they can rebuild.

Cheely posted to Facebook seeking donations of clothing and other items to help her family get by in the meantime. She said they still are in need of size 18 women’s jeans and size 38-30 men’s jeans.

Monetary donations can be made via Venmo to @cheely79 or via Cash App to $cheely1979.

A rural Danville home was destroyed by flames, smoke and water Saturday after a grill fire spread to the structure.

Danville firefighters were called to 8997 Sycamore Road at about 9:46 p.m. for a fire that had started on a grill on the deck of the home. While firefighters were en route to the scene, they were notified by DesCom that the fire had spread to the back of the home, spurring a call for mutual aid from fire departments in West Burlington and New London.

Danville firefighters arrived at 9:59 p.m. to find the doors to the ranch-style home open and the two residents, Raymond and Sheryl Hofheins, safely outside while heavy, wind-driven flames blazed visibly from the attic.

“The wind didn’t help us out any,” Danville Fire Chief Bryon Heater said. “It went along the eaves and into the attic.”

The family cat could not be found, Heater said, but it is believed the feline was able to escape safely through the open doors.

Further aide was requested from the Yarmouth, Denmark and Mediapolis fire departments, as was a Burlington Fire Department ambulance for patient assessment and firefighter relief. No one was injured and no transport was needed.

A total of 31 firefighters, two paramedics and four Des Moines County Sheriff’s deputies assisted at the scene.

“There were heavy fire conditions and the firefighters were doing everything they could to control it,” said Tim Olk of Northern Illinois Fire Ground Photography, who typically photographs fires – as well as firefighter funerals, weddings and other events, in the Chicago area. The firefighter turned photographer was in Burlington visiting relatives when he heard the Danville call over his radio.

Firefighters carried out continuous tanker operations, wherein each of the responding trucks emptied their water tanks into a pool before taking off to refill at the nearest hydrant and repeating the cycle.

“You need to keep that pool full,” Oak explained.

Fire crews remained there tamping out hot spots until 2:46 a.m. Sunday.

The fire did not spread below the attic, but the home, valued at $242,600 and its contents, initial estimates of which are valued at about $75,000, sustained extensive water damage. The home is considered to be a total loss.

Heater still is investigating what caused the grill fire. He recommends grills be placed away from homes.


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