The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

January 26, 2014

Human remains found in house fire

BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL bhuchel@dancomnews.com
The Commercial-News

---- — HOMER — Human remains were found in the rubble of a house fire in the far southwestern corner of Vermilion County.

The Vermilion County Coroner’s Office was called early Saturday afternoon to the scene of the house fire at County Road 7886N 200E, the rural home of Jeffrey Ward.

Coroner Peggy Johnson said the remains found in the fire were unidentifiable and had been sent to a forensics specialist for identification before a formal confirmation of the deceased was made.

Homer Fire Chief Don Happ Jr. was the first person on the scene of the fire, which was called in by neighbors around 10:30 p.m. Friday. According to Happ, flames had already come completely through the single-story older farm house’s roof, causing it to begin to collapse when he arrived on the scene.

It took two hours for firefighters from Homer — assisted by mutual aid from seven other local departments — to get the blaze under control.

Happ — who knew homeowner Jeffrey Ward personally — saw that Ward’s vehicles were at the home at the time of the fire and suspected Ward could have been inside.

But 35 mph winds pushed the fire’s intensity to the point where firefighters couldn’t enter the home.

“There was nothing we could do until we had that fire out,” Happ said. He noted firefighters also dealt with white-out conditions caused by snowfall while battling the blaze.

The home was destroyed in the blaze, with the structure burned down to the basement. Happ said the cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

Investigators from the Illinois State Fire Marshal as well as cadaver-sniffing dogs from the Illinois State Police came to the scene to go through debris of the home. By 11 a.m. Saturday, Happ said the human remains had been discovered.

Damage to the home was estimated at $100,000. Flames also caused $15,000 in damage to a semi trailer parked near the home.