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Fires put a damper on holiday for two families

Damage from Christmas morning fire 501 Blackstone Court Lake Villthstarted with fireplace ashes being thrown incardboard box discarded inplastic garbage

Damage from a Christmas morning fire at 501 Blackstone Court in Lake Villa that started with fireplace ashes being thrown into a cardboard box and discarded into a plastic garbage can in the garage. | Frank Abderholden/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 24, 2014 4:23AM

Presents may have been destroyed in a Christmas Eve house fire near Gurnee and a Christmas morning house fire in the Painted Lakes subdivision in Lake Villa, but there were no injuries to firefighters or families, although one person did get his eyebrows singed.

That was Todd Simonsen of 501 Blackstone Court, Lake Villa, who opened the door to the attached garage because he smelled smoke. He closed it quickly, which Lake Villa firefighters said slowed the fire’s spread.

“Your the third person to tell me that,” he said to a firefighter who told him his eyebrows were singed. He closed the door and called 911 and then got his mother, wife and 21-year-old granddaughter out onto the porch in their stocking feet until a neighbor opened their house as refuge.

“We are still thankful for our family,” he said. “God bless our family, we are really fortunate,” said Simonsen, who thanked the firefighters individually after the fire.

Lake Villa Fire Chief Frank Slazes at the scene said the homeowner had emptied fireplace ashes into a cardboard box and then put it into the rolling garbage can inside the garage that morning. The fire was noticed 30 minutes later.

“The winds off the prairie really got the fire going,” said Slazes, referring to part of the Sun Lake Forest Preserve behind Simonsen’s home. There was no immediate damage estimate but some parts of the roof were burned through and one car inside the garage was destroyed and two others sustained front end damage while parked in the driveway.

Simonsen said firefighters were able to get both his pets, a cat and dog, out of the house. His neighbor who gave him and his family shelter, Syed Ahmed, said he heard the sirens coming closer and closer to his home.

“Then I opened the door and saw the house on fire,” he said. “I am sad to be helping this way, it’s a sad situation,” he said.

Another neighbor was talking care of Simonsen’s 8-year-old German shepherd, Luka, who Simonsen was going to walk when he smelled smoke. At one point, Scott and Heather Soltis approached him. They had lent him a leash earlier during the fire. They are visiting nearby family. The couple brought some dog treats and asked if they could do anything — buy clothes, take care of the dog.

Simonsen was touched. “It’s really amazing how people keep coming up and asking us what we need,” he said as he shook his head slightly.

“Thank you so much,” he said.

At 35809 Grant Avenue, just south of Rollins Road and Route 45, a box alarm was called for the 8:34 p.m. fire because the area does not have hydrants and multiple tankers were needed to ferry water to the blaze, which burned right through the roof.

The family was not home at the time, but a friend, Bob Heraver, stopped by the scene Christmas morning after hearing about the fire. “This is the second time I’ve known someone whose house burned on Christmas,” he said, explaining the other incident was 30 years ago.

He said his friends who own the house, Kenn and Anita Pahlmann, are part of a contemporary worship band called Power of Praise at the St. Adam Lutheran Church in Mundelein.

“This is just terrible,” he said surveying the damage.

Anita is the parish administrator at the church and they had gone to the contemporary service Christmas Eve and then a relative’s house for a family gathering.

“Thankfully we dropped our puppy off at his family’s house before we left for church,” she said.

“It’s gone, but we have a wonderful insurance agent, he searched us down at a friend’s house,” she said, “We’ve had an outpouring of support from friends and family,” she said.

But the shock of seeing the destroyed home was still a lot to take in.

“We are very, very numb, no pun intended,” she said, alluding to the freezing temperatures firefighters had to contend with that night.

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