A fire at the Gary and Kim Zwart farm, just west of Chatfield, took their home on Friday. The Chatfield Fire Department, with the aid of Fountain, fought the fire in difficult cold-weather conditions.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
A fire at the Gary and Kim Zwart farm, just west of Chatfield, took their home on Friday. The Chatfield Fire Department, with the aid of Fountain, fought the fire in difficult cold-weather conditions. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
A Chatfield family's home burned last Friday morning, Jan. 3, as temperatures continued to fall and the chilly south wind scathed the hilltop. The frigid wind chills made the Chatfield firefighters' response to the fire at 20912 County Road 2, Gary and Kimberly Zwart's address just west of Chatfield, more difficult.

Chatfield Fire Chief Keith Bradt noted the department received the call at 9:37 a.m. and arrived at the fire at 9:41 a.m. The Zwarts were not home at the time, but a neighbor reported the fire.

"By the time we got there, the whole house was engulfed in flames and fire," said Bradt, "and we started fighting it defensively. Nobody was going into it. The wind was blowing so hard that it pushed the fire from the south to the north...we were there maybe five minutes and the roof collapsed."

Bradt also reported that the department called in the Fountain Fire Department for support and had the ambulance on hand for the first hour of the fire in case someone was still in the house. Bradt said one of the Zwarts' daughters was unaccounted for, but was soon found to be at a friend's house and safe.

The chief said the firefighters used 40,000 to 50,000 gallons of water to fight the fire and the below-zero wind chills and temperatures quickly turned that water into ice.

"We did have issues with the cold weather," Bradt said. "The challenges were the icy conditions - we had the sand truck come out and sand the roads and we rotated the guys in and out of rehab so they could warm up. It was cold with the wind blowing. It's a good thing there was nobody in the house, but a bad thing that they lost everything."

While the Zwarts found a place to stay - across the road at Kimberly's parents' home - the persistent dry wind did the firefighters no favors throughout the rest of the day as it picked up ashes and breathed oxygen into the ice-covered embers.

Bradt stated, "We put more water on it, another 1,000 gallons, sometime between 6:30 and 6:45 (p.m.). We were worried about sparks."

The department answered another call to extinguish a chimney fire late in the afternoon, shortly before returning to the Zwart property.

"The other call was a chimney...it was a wood-burning stove and a log cabin...the chimney caught fire near the roof. We got it out quickly. It's lucky they were home, or we would have had another loss," Bradt said.

The chief added he was "hoping this was the end of it," given that the forecast for Sunday through Tuesday included actual temperatures in the negative 20s.

"If it happens when it's really cold like that, it could really complicate matters, freeze up some of our equipment, but we didn't have a problem with the equipment freezing up on Friday, thankfully. Just hoping this is the end of it," Bradt concluded.