Drivers spot fire at home just outside Columbiana

COLUMBIANA – People driving on Columbiana-Lisbon Road just outside the city potentially saved a two-story home from being destroyed by fire Friday afternoon, but some also put their own lives in danger.

Martin Elsass, who lives across the street and a few yards down from Joe and Ruth Zarnosky’s home at 1818 Columbiana-Lisbon Road, said some people ran up to the house and attempted to get inside after seeing the fire, concerned there may have been people inside.

“There were people running up there and that concerned me, if they had opened a door and there was a back draft or something …” he said.

Elsass was not aware of the fire until a passerby stopped and knocked on his door and told him to call someone.

“A woman came knocking on the door and said there was smoke billowing out and people were stopping their cars and running up to the house to see if anyone was in there, so I called 911,” he said.

Then he saw the flames.

“There (were) flames just starting to come out of the back of the house. There was a big ball of smoke. I couldn’t see what was going on at the far side of the house,” he said.

The two-story vinyl sided home is situated on a large piece of property off the left side of the road headed toward the city. The fire was mostly to the back left side of the home near the chimney.

A large barn and detached garage are also on the property but were not touched by the fire.

Elsass said a trooper with the Lisbon Post of the Highway Patrol was on scene within minutes and told some concerned bystanders to get off the property.

Elsass watched as the trooper drove down the driveway toward where the fire was coming out of the house, possibly to make sure no one was at the back of the property either.

“Just as that patrol car got turned around and was facing the back side of the house, all the siding started melting off and the whole back of it just lit up,” he said.

A few minutes later firefighters arrived.

Columbiana Fire Chief Rick Garrity said they were able to contain the fire within 15 minutes, and it was completely extinguished in less than 30 minutes.

They had no trouble getting into the home and no one was injured, although some firefighters did suffer minor cuts and scratches on their hands, he said.

The fire was reported shortly after 5 p.m. and Columbiana and Leetonia firefighters were still on scene after 6 p.m. At that point Garrity said the department was just beginning its investigation.

He said no one was inside the home when the fire broke out and he had been told the Zarnoskys were out of town that evening.

That they were not home at the time was news to some of their relatives, who showed up on the property concerned for their well-being.

A man from Salem who identified himself only as a cousin to Joe Zarnosky waited briefly on the yard until approaching firefighters to ask what had happened.

Farther down the road near Woodland Avenue a woman driving toward the home from Columbiana asked a patrol trooper who was directed traffic away from the area to tell her which house was on fire.

“Is it a big house on the right?” She asked, adding that if so, that was her uncle’s home.

The trooper replied he did not know the exact address but that the home was on the right side. The woman remained calm and did not go to the property.

According to Garrity, the fire originated in a back room on the first floor and then went out the window to the back porch, where it extended up the outside of the home along the brick chimney to the second floor.

The fire was mostly to the back left side of the house, and the rest of the home was not damaged, he added.

The cause of the fire remains unknown and Garrity said the state Fire Marshal’s Office will be called in to investigate.

Roughly 30 firefighters between the Columbiana and Leetonia fire departments responded to the call. Columbiana EMS also responded.

Elsass, who has lived there since 1996, said he did not know the Zarnoskys personally and that they “mostly keep to themselves.”