A Johnson County resident was out shopping when he received the call no homeowner wants to get – the house he grew up in and now lives at with his wife was on fire.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Don Robison said.
Don and his wife, Julie, spent the 15-minute drive home on Friday night wondering what would be left for them to salvage. They returned to their farmhouse east of Interstate 65 on Rocklane Road to find dozens of firefighters working to put out the blaze in a thunderstorm.
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A lightning strike had started a fire in the attic of the two-story home, Needham Fire Department Chief Eric Rodenhuis said.
The home sustained significant damage, but no one was injured, he said.
The department received a call about the fire around 7:30 p.m. Friday from a driver passing by on Rocklane Road. Heavy thunderstorms were scattered across Johnson County that evening and multiple fire departments had been called out for lightning strikes. Rodenhuis wasn’t sure if his department would be able to get any assistance from other agencies, but eventually they had about three dozen firefighters from seven local departments at the scene, he said.
The fire was extinguished around 10:15 p.m., he said.
No one was home when the fire began, and the family’s two dogs were outside, Robison said.
For now, the Robisons can only walk through the first floor of the house. The stairway and second floor are too heavily damaged to enter.
The fire severely damaged the attic and second-floor of the house, as well as a bedroom on the first floor, but Robison believes they may be able to salvage the house, even if that means tearing off and rebuilding the second floor.
The farmhouse has been in the Robinson family for about five decades. Bob Robison, Don’s father, owns the property, which various family members have lived at since he moved out in 1977.
Had firefighters not responded as quickly as they did, he believes the home would be completely destroyed.
“I’m thankful they got here so soon,” Bob Robison said.
The first firefighters were at the house within about five minutes of the 911 call, Rodenhuis said.
Because the old farmhouse built in the 1830s had walls built with white oak, which burns slowly, firefighters had time to get the blaze under control, Don Robison said.
Had this been a newly constructed home, it might have burned down before firefighters had a chance to arrive, he said.
Once the fire was under control, firefighters managed to get some of the family’s belongings out of the house, grabbing family pictures off of the walls and some dress clothes from a closet. Fire departments from Fairland in Shelby County, Greenwood, Whiteland, New Whiteland, Bargersvile and Franklin all also responded to the fire.
“We try to recover and remove stuff when we are pulling down drywall looking for hotspots,” Rodenhuis said.
Firefighters cut holes in the roof with chainsaws to allow them to extinguish hot spots in the attic, Robison said.
“Those guys are heroes,” he said.
For now, the Robisons are staying in a recreational vehicle at their property. They have connections for electricity and water, and with a working kitchen and sink, they have everything they need for the moment, Robison said.
The generosity from neighbors and church members has been overwhelming, Robison said. Several people have offered them a place to stay. An electrician helped fix an issue with their recreational vehicle. Another woman brought over milk and cookies for them to eat, he said.