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'Could have been total loss' but firefighters save Mitchell home from being destroyed by attic fire

Fire Marshall Shannon Sandoval said a fan in the attic caused the fire, but crews managed to put it out within about 20 minutes

People watch first responders put out an attic fire on Tuesday night inside of a house on the corner of East Fourth Avenue and Burr Street.
Sam Fosness / Republic
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MITCHELL — First responders managed to contain an attic fire that broke out inside of a Mitchell home late Tuesday night and helped minimize the damage to the house.

Mitchell Fire Marshall Shannon Sandoval said the smoke detectors alerting the occupants of a fire inside the large brick house on the corner of East Fourth Avenue and Burr Street was crucial in helping first responders arrive on scene to contain the attic fire very quickly.

Sandoval was the first to arrive on scene around 10 p.m. and said the fire in the attic had filled most of the attic with smoke before crews were able to contain it within about 20 minutes.

“The occupant was alerted by a smoke detector upstairs. Smoke embanked all the way to the floor of the attic. There was no visibility when guys got up there, but they found the seed of the fire with our thermal cameras,” Sandoval said. “The home is structurally sound, and the attic will have to be gutted.”

The estimated damage to the home caused by the fire is around $10,000 to $15,000, Sandoval noted.


Sandoval said the cause of the fire was due to a fan in the attic. Sandoval noted the fan could have either overheated or malfunctioned in a way to set the attic on fire. The 90-degree heat Mitchell saw Tuesday made for hot weather conditions that can escalate fires quickly.

“I can’t say for certain the fan malfunctioned, but it was the source of the fire,” he said.

Although the attic fire wasn’t visible from the exterior of the house, Sandoval said there was “definitely fire” in the attic when crews arrived to put it out.

All occupants who were in the home at the time the fire broke out managed to safely escape.

The old brick house had some “different features” to it that made it challenging for crews to make sure the fire was not spreading in any of the walls, Sandoval said. The lengthy soffit atop the house wasn’t accessible through the attic, which is why Sandoval said crews had to use a ladder and drill into the soffit to check for fire.

“I’ve never come across a soffit built like that. It spanned like 50 to 60 feet,” he said. “This house is a little bit different because the exterior is brick, and the interior is plaster. It changes how the fire progresses. It held a lot of heat.”

Considering the fire could have deemed the house a total loss had crews not responded as early as they did, thanks to the smoke detectors, Sandoval said it serves as a good reminder for homeowners to make sure their detectors are working properly.

“If they had been sleeping or didn’t have detectors to alert us as early as they did, it would have spread through the whole front face of the home. It could have been a total loss in that scenario. This is a great reminder for people to make sure their smoke detectors are working,” Sandoval said.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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