July 24, 2021 – West Bend, WI – On July 23, 2021 at approximately 8:18 pm, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office was notified of an explosion and house fire at a single family residence in the 3100 block of Norman Drive in the Town of Barton. The incident was reported by a nearby neighbor.
There were two occupants at the residence at the time of the explosion. Both occupants received severe burns. They were taken by ambulance to a local hospital where they were then med flighted to a regional burn unit.
Deputies with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office reported to the scene along with West Bend Fire Department. The call was quickly upgraded to a MABAS call. The fire department was assisted by Lifestar Ambulance, WE Energies, Jackson, Allenton, Kewaskum, Newburg, Slinger, Germantown, Boltonville, Kohlsville, Fillmore, St Lawrence, Hartford, Grafton, and Richfield Fire Departments. State Patrol assisted the Sheriff’s Office with traffic control. Traffic to the area was shut down for nearly four hours. Neighboring residences were temporarily evacuated.
The residence sustained severed damage due to the fire, smoke and water. The house and contents appear to be a total loss. Preliminary damage estimates were believed to exceed $300,000. Minor damage occurred to a neighboring home.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Wisconsin Department of Justice State Fire Marshal’s Office, and the West Bend Fire Department.
Below is an audio interview with Vicki Hopp and Jeff Dreher. They are neighbors to the house that exploded on Norman Drive. Hopp said the explosion was due to a gas dryer and a possible gas leak inside the home.
Two people were in the home at the time. Jeff Dreher helped pull them out. The victims were severely burned. There is no water resource/fire hydrants so tankers are bring water.
“I got out of Auggie and he was kind of shocked. All he remembers is he turned his dryer on. Apparently there must have been a gas leak in the house and a spark from the dryer or whatever ignited it,” said Dreher. “It blew out the windows and doors…half the roof. It’s a miracle those guys are alive.”
Dreher said by the time he got outside, his son had already come running out.
“He was screaming… he was half on fire with his clothes on fire. I yelled at him ‘where is his dad’ and he says “he’s back in the house. I gotta go get him.”
Dreher took the lead and ran inside to get Augie. “I’m like, stay right here. I’ll go get him. And I ran in. Auggie’s eyesight…his eyes…I think he’s pretty well blind. I had to lead him out of the house. We got everybody out, but the house is done,” said Dreher.
Dreher described the home as a total loss.
Dreher said all of the people inside the home were taken by Flight for Life. “They got them out of there. They were bad. Third degree burns on probably over half their bodies I would say,” he said.
A big part of the problem fighting the fire was the lack of a water supply at the scene.
“There’s no hydrants out in this area, no. My shed burned down probably 15-ish years ago and it was the same thing. We had to get a pool out here and get water from the river and, you know… They’re doing what they can with it, but I can’t believe how long it took trucks to get out here.”
“Yeah, there’s one guy that’s got an aerial ladder that’s over here now and he’s spraying down onto it but the house is gone to the ground already. Right now they’re just putting out the ashes on the ground,” said Dreher. “It looks like the gas finally went off. The gas was coming out for a long time. They leave that actually on, I think, as a protective measure because as soon as it loses pressure it could back feed and actually blow up part of the neighborhood. But hopefully they got that contained.”