Southeastern Iowa family, crews speak out on fire prevention

BURLINGTON, Iowa — First responders are pulling out all the tools to keep you safe while highlighting Fire Prevention Week, warning you of the split-second decision families face during a fire.

One family in Burlington is still grieving the loss of their loved one, Samantha “Sammi” Judd Hoenig, 44, after she died in an apartment fire in 2021. 

“She was very outgoing,” sister-in-law Anne Judd said. “She would help anybody with a shirt off her back.”

The incident happened around 7:00 a.m. on Aug. 21, 2021, at 1126 Washington St. in Burlington.

“The one upstairs across from her apartment said he heard her screaming,” brother Andy Judd said. “He tried to get to her, but there was so much flames in that, he went out the window.”

Sammi was trapped in the four-unit building while the other residents made it out. Investigators said the blaze started on the first floor and they’re still trying to determine if careless smoking or overloading extension cords are to blame. Andy said he wonders if the building had more exits if the result would’ve been different. 

“It’s never going to get better,” Anne said. “We’re always going to have to deal with the grief and there’s nothing that can bring her back.”

Anne carries around a necklace to remember Sammi, with the words “forever in my heart” etched on it. Sammi’s ashes sit in a heart-shaped part of the pendant. Among Sammi’s loved ones, she leaves behind four children and seven grandchildren. 

While healing continues for the Judd family, just an hour and a half west in Chillicothe, Iowa is a scene being called a first.

“I’ve been here for 30 years and haven’t had any type of incident like this occur,” Wapello County Sheriff Don Phillips said.

He was among the crews that responded to what was a house fire at first before turning into a deadly explosion.

“Just a terrible event,” Phillips said. “It was obviously very loud. It’s ‘completely totaled’ is how I would describe it.”Debris scattered across the property and News 8 noticed  the structure appears like it could collapse at any moment. 

Josh Weir, 45, died at the hospital after being airlifted from the home at 325 High St. on Oct. 4, 2022.

“Seeing the individual and the injuries he had, was pretty horrific,” Phillips said. 

News 8 obtained the report into the case that outlined the situation as “accidental” after being sparked by a propane tank leak and Josh lighting a cigarette. 

“It’s a tragic event with a person’s life being lost as a result of something that could have easily been fixed or taken care and looked into to make sure something like this didn’t happen,” Phillips said.

Iowa State Fire Marshal Dan Wood said these types of scenes are why authorities are sounding the alarm.

“We struggle getting to those people and getting them educated and helping them in that area,” Wood said. “Check your smoke detectors twice a year. We’re coming up on the time change here in November.”

He also adds the importance of cooking safety, checking your furnace, allowing an open area for space heaters and installing carbon monoxide detectors.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking is the leading cause of house fires and injuries. Rock Island Fire Marshal Greg Marty told News 8 he’s seen a number of relatively new fires in recent years, including frayed phone chargers, lithium-ion batteries, solar panels and electric vehicles along with charging systems for cars.

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