Gas ruled out in West Lafayette fire, kids helping raise money for victims

(Photo Credit: Travis Oliver)
Search for cause of fires in West Lafayette
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West Lafayette, Ind. (WTHR) — Investigators still don't know what caused a fire that ripped through a West Lafayette neighborhood Friday destroying five homes and damaging three others.

But Wabash Township Fire Chief Ed Ward told Eyewitness News it wasn't natural gas. Ward said what may have sounded like explosions were likely propone tanks catching fire.

He said Vectren Energy and investigators with the State Fire Marshal spent Monday testing gas lines and found no evidence of a gas leak.

They've determined the fire started in house now fenced off. The new owner had just closed on the house and had begun moving belongings in Friday morning.

As for why the fire spread so quickly?

Ward said the first 911 calls didn't come until three homes were engulfed in flames. He also cited the close proximity of homes and radiant heat.

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the fire. Trevor Landrum, who lives next to one of the damaged houses is still stunned at what happened.

He was working in his office upstairs when he heard a commotion and came outside.

"The heat just hit you like a punch in the face, just everything was on fire," he said.

Three days later Landrum was praising the amount of support he's received.

"The outpouring of support from the homeowners association, residents and community been pretty inspiring," he told Eyewitness News.

Natalie Moore, who works with the HSA, was walking the neighborhood to make sure everyone is safe and had what they needed.

The HSA raised more than $11,000 through a crowd-sourcing campaign to help the homeowners impacted by the fire.

Moore stopped to talk to Brenda Ackerman whose house was damaged and still without power. She gave her several gift cards to help her buy groceries or other items she needed.

Ackerman got choked up when asked about the community's response.

"It's overwhelming," she said. "I'm just very grateful, very grateful."

Ten-year-old Maelynn Cornman and her 12-year-old brother RJ were doing their part as well.

"It just makes you think, 'wow, what if we were there?' (Our house) and all of it's gone, just gone," Maelynn said.

She and her brother, with help from their stepdad, put a sign and bucket in the street to raise money, hoping the "the gawkers," as RJ calls them would donate. Gawkers are the people who have been driving through the neighborhood to see what's left of th homes. He said there were many of them over the weekend with Mealynn chiming in: "We got $300 in six hours. Imagine how much more we can get for the entire day to buy groceries, get hotel rooms, the essentials they need."

Several drivers who stopped to drop money in the bucket were residents of the neighborhood.

"As one woman got out of her car to make a donation the Cornman's thanked her profusely.

"It's the least I can do, just a little, a little at a time," Maelynn said. "It will help all those people who lost their homes."

"It really makes you feel good you're doing it and people care," RJ said. "It means a lot to see the community come together."

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