As the worst winter storm of 2013 cranked into high gear Thursday morning, volunteer firefighters from Clearmont, Burlington Junction and other communities rushed to the scene of a house fire in the tiny town of Elmo, 19 miles northwest of Maryville.
As the first units arrived sometime after 9 a.m., smoke and flame could be seen at the rear of the aging, white two-story residence at the corner of Main and Scott streets, a block east of Route C.
Elvada Tyler, who lived in the house with her companion, Steve Weland, said she was still in bed when the blaze broke out, and fled after she heard Weland shout that the structure was burning.
Both residents escaped without injury, but Tyler speculated that four of the couple's seven dogs may have perished inside the residence, which quickly filled with dense smoke.
While Tyler was standing outside in the gathering snowstorm wrapped in a blanket, a neighbor found one of the animals and returned it to her. The fate of the other dogs was not immediately determined.
As crews poured water on the flames, Weland took shelter in a car parked near the house. Tyler remained outside, occasionally responding to questions from firefighters, who were hampered by weather, thick smoke and a delay in getting KCP&L personnel to the scene in order to turn off the electricity.
Tyler said she was unsure how the fire started, but added that, after responding to Weland's warning, she saw a sofa ablaze in a ground-floor room that also contained an electric heater designed to look like a fireplace.
"There was lots of smoke," she said. "I didn't think we were going to get out of there. It's an old house."
Sheriff Darren White, who was on scene, said the house remained standing after the fire was extinguished but was probably a total loss. He agreed that the electric heater was a likely cause, and added that the house may have had wiring issues.
Tyler said Weland either owned or was buying the house, and that the structure was insured. She said the couple have lived there about five years.
Firefighters remained at the scene until around noon, and at one point used a chain saw to gain access to a hotspot beneath a section of roof covering what appeared to be a one-story addition at the rear of the house.
Smoke and fire damage was extensive, especially on the first floor.