STILLWELL — A Northwest Indiana fire chief lost the fight to save his home just east of LaPorte when a fire started upstairs early Tuesday.
Pleasant Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Kevin Bluhm, whose century-old home is two doors down from the fire station, raced over, got a tanker truck and started putting water on the rapidly spreading flames.
His wife called 911 on her cellphone, and Bluhm had just turned on the water from the truck as firefighters from his department showed up minutes later, he said.
Firefighters from surrounding departments in LaPorte, Walkerton and Kingsbury also responded but were unable to save the top part of the house from the flames.
Bluhm, a firefighter for 32 years, said he, his wife and their three pets all made it out safely. He said it was unusual to contact his insurance company to make a claim on what he described as a total loss at his home at 3377 S. Ind. 104 in Stillwell.
"I've never been in that position before. I usually clean up and walk away," Bluhm said.
Bluhm said he and his wife awoke in an upstairs bedroom at about 2 a.m. Tuesday to their Dachshund, Harley, barking.
Through the smoke, Bluhm said he spotted a couch in an upstairs living area burning. By then, the smoke detectors were blaring, he said.
As the public is instructed to do in a fire, he said, the Bluhms quickly got themselves, along with their dog and two cats, out of the 2½-story structure known in the small, close-knit community as the Castle House because of its unique rounded brick front that resembles a stone castle.
"I treated it as any other fire. We started attacking the fire, then our training kicked in and we did what we needed to do to get it under control," Bluhm said.
Bluhm said the cause of the fire remained under investigation.
He said perhaps the flames spread so quickly because of the windy conditions and the fact that the house is more than 100 years old. He said the brick exterior also could have held in more of the heat that fed the flames.
Bluhm was assistant chief for 15 years before succeeding his father, Phillip, as chief four years ago.