According to police on scene, an astute neighbor driving by the duplex on Martin Drive around 9 a.m. caught the sight of a flame at the corner of the house on Saturday, Feb. 25. He first stopped to make sure no one was home, then made a call to police.
Over the next four hours, six fire departments including Tess Corners, would battle the elusive fire. Mukwonago, Hales Corners, Big Bend, Vernon and Waukesha departments were called upon for mutual aid. However, despite thick smoke and cold conditions only one injury was reported to fire personnel, with the fire fighter transported to the hospital. No update to his condition has been received yet, but it was reported that his injuries were not life threatening.
Equally as lucky, none of the duplex's three tenants were at home, except for two cats in the upstairs unit. The loss was devastating to Ashley Miller, who returned to the scene from her job at an animal clinic in Brookfield, distraught over the fate of the animals. Neighbors said she often would foster cats for adoption as well.
The structure, which was built in 1929, was evidentally a total loss as crews got control of the fire around noon, tearing into the siding to expose any remaining sources of fire. Repeated additions had hampered early efforts to get to the source of the fire, which fire chief Carl 'Skip' Wojnowski said was inside the home's walls near the bedroom. In addition, newspaper that was found used as insulation (probably placed there when the home was built) only helped to feed the fire.
Also unknown was the fate of five classic cars that Dennis Chartier had stored in the garage of the home.
"I wanted to check on them, but the fire department wouldn't let me," he said. It's likely the cars survived the worst, as the garage was located under the main level of the home, and sat forward of the residence.
The owner of the duplex was reportedly in Florida and could not be reached for comment. In addition, the other tenants living in the first level, Danny Klement and Dawn Schultz, were also not on scene and could not be reached.