The smell of smoke clung to the air Saturday as investigators sifted through the charred interior of the Mitchell house destroyed in a fatal Friday night fire.
Investigators returned to the house Saturday morning to try to determine a cause but were unable to nail down anything definitive, according to Mitchell Chief of Public Safety Lyndon Overweg.
Chris Buckley, a 42-year-old, died after his home at 813 Vincent Place caught fire just before midnight between Friday. Authorities identified him as the single occupant of the home. An autopsy will be conducted today.
The fire was reported at 11:52 Friday p.m. by neighbors. The location is about a half-block east of Davison County's Public Safety Center, and a block south of Havens Avenue.
The structure was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. Firefighters removed Buckley from the home and attempted to revive him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene. Nobody else was injured.
Overweg said there were some trees near the house that also caught fire, which were put out by firefighters when they first arrived at the scene. He said firefighters had the fire out within about 30 minutes, but continued working on “hot spots” until about 3:15 a.m., and authorities had security at the site throughout the night.
Overweg said the investigation was conducted jointly between the Mitchell Department of Public Safety, the state fire marshal and the state Division of Criminal Investigation.
Overweg said they believe the fire started in the home’s bedroom near the bed. Because of the extensive damage to the interior of the home, authorities said they were unable to determine an exact cause.
“The all-steel construction of the house contained much of the heat from the fire to the interior of the home, which intensified the damage,” according to a news release from the Mitchell Department of Public Safety.
That damage was too severe for investigators to be sure whether there was a working smoke detector in the home, but Overweg and the news release emphasized the importance of having one.
“Something we really want to push out there is to remind everyone to have a working smoke alarm on each level of their home and near each bedroom of their home,” he said.
Ironically, at the same time the fire was burning, The Daily Republic was sending an edition to press with a story on the front page about a substantial decrease in fires so far this year in Mitchell. Through August, the city had 44 fewer fires than it did through the same period of 2012. The paper printed before news of Friday night’s fire could be included in the edition.
The home destroyed by fire Friday was a Lustron home, one of about 2,500 kit homes made by Lustron Corp. between 1949 and 1950, before the company went bankrupt. Lustron homes were touted as, among other things, maintenance free and fire proof, and cost about $7,000.
“These homes were considered to be three times stronger than a traditional stick built home and were advertised as being rodent proof, fire proof, lightning proof and rust proof,” according to lustronconnection.org, a website dedicated to the history and continued use of the homes.
The idea for Lustron homes was born after World War II, when returning servicemen created a higher demand for housing. The website says many of the homes are still in good condition and in use.
According to a Jan. 20, 2007, column by then-publisher Noel Hamiel in The Daily Republic, there were five such homes built in Mitchell, three of them in the 800 block of Vincent Place.
Steel homes have seen a bit of a modern revival in East Coast areas searching for hurricane-proof places to live. Manufacturers like Kodiak Steel Homes deliver such homes as a kit on a flatbed truck, just the way Lustron homes were delivered more than 60 years ago.