The North Bend Eagle

Fire at Lewis home
A day after his parents' house burned down, Jim Lewis Jr. sifts through the wreakage of the house where he grew up. Jim Sr. and Penny Lewis's house was destroyed by fire in the early hours of Wednesday [Jan. 23, 2013].

Fire destroys Lewis family's lakeside home

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 1/30/13

Jim and Penny Lewis have lived in their lakeside home for 38 years. But no more.

It all burned to the ground in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning. They had been out for the evening, arriving home around 11:30 p.m. to find flames coming out the roof of their home at 252 McGinn’s Lake about three miles west of North Bend. They immediately called 9-1-1, but the fire department had difficulty getting to the site, having to go to far west side to gain access because bridge on east side couldn’t hold the fire equipment. Then the fire department was held up by train. For the final straw, they kept running out of water.

“As you can see, they were a little late,” Jim Lewis said. “But it wasn’t their fault. They did a marvelous job.”

Lewis fireJim Lewis Jr. takes in the scene.

The North Bend Fire Department called the Morse Bluff Fire Department for mutual aid at 12:07 a.m. with a full structure response. Schuyler Fire Department was called around 12:35 a.m. for water and manpower assistance. In all, 20 firefighters responded to the fire in the 15-degree weather.

One of the new firefighters on the North Bend squad was J.T. Lewis. His first major call was to his grandparents’ home.

The Fire Marshal ruled it an accidental fire. The house was a total loss, with it and the contents valued at $115,000. A pickup valued at $500 was also destroyed in the fire.

The fire departments had left the scene by 5 a.m.

An investigator for the Lewis’ insurance company determined that a wood burning stove overheated and started a chimney fire which spread to the attic.

“That stove has been in there 30 years,” Jim Lewis said. “I put new piping and stuff on it two years ago. We redid the floor and the back wall so it wasn’t combustible. Who knows what happened.”

The Lewises can say nothing but nice things about the community response. Several people have offered their homes for the Lewis’ to live in. Mike McGinn, owner of land, was there at 3 a.m. offering reassurance.

Their insurance company was out there about six hours after the fire and several times since.

“I thought we were over insured,” Lewis said. “The house was insured for much more than it was assessed. The insurance man said you don’t realize what it would cost to rebuild, (you) need to leave it where it’s at. I argued with him a little bit, but then we left it. Now I’m happy. I even called him and thanked him for not dropping it.”

Nothing was saved before the blaze consumed the house.

“You don’t realize how much stuff you’ve got in your house until you start counting it up,” Lewis said, flipping through a list of destroyed items several pages long.
“I had a coin collection. We might have to get a guy with a metal detector to see if we can find (the coins), then I don’t know if they’re going to be worth keeping or not. Everything’s gone. The only thing we have is what we had on our backs.”

Penny was optimistic though.

“We’re resilient, though,” she said. “We’ll bounce back. We have too many friends and family not to bounce back.”

The Lewis’ are living in an Omaha hotel now, with a neighbor opening up his cabin when they are at the site. New flood regulations may prevent them from rebuilding at the same site.

“We don’t even know if FEMA will let us rebuild,” Lewis said. “They make so many rules now. It might not be cost effective to rebuild now.”

Even if not allowed to rebuild on same spot, they want to stay in the area. They might revert back to a cabin at this site, using the free standing garage as a start.

“My grandkids love it out here,” Jim Lewis said. “They’d miss it.”
But first, on with life. Jim Lewis had shoulder surgery scheduled for Tuesday.

Nathan Arneal contributed to this article.

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