New Albany house fire victims believe it could have been prevented

New Albany fire crews working at the scene at 1118 Clark Street.
New Albany fire crews working at the scene at 1118 Clark Street.
Carrie Brear and Austin Whitman
Carrie Brear and Austin Whitman
Peggy HIbbard (right) and her family members.
Peggy HIbbard (right) and her family members.

NEW ALBANY, IN (WAVE) – Two families are without a home after a fire destroys a New Albany duplex.

The fire happened Thursday night at 1118 Clark Street.

"It could have been a very, very tragic night, a lot worse than what it has already come out to be," said Carrie Brear, one of the fire victims.

Left with nothing, Brear, her fiance, Austin Whitman, and their 15 month old daughter, Skylynn, still can't accept that all their belongings were destroyed.

Just after 8 p.m. Thursday, the couple returned home to find that they had no electricity, so they decided to check the breaker box and call their landlord.

"We didn't think it was that big a deal, it was making a humming noise and it just made a real funny buzzing noise," said Brear.

Flipping the switch wasn't working.

"Well, it kind of threw out a spark, so we turned it off and left it alone," said Brear, "and I called the landlord and told him we were not going to be there that night."

The couple says the landlord told them he would call an electrician first thing in the morning. Thinking the problem would soon be resolved Brear didn't think to alert their neighbors below, who also are their relatives, as they left to stay with other family members.

"It was about 11:30 p.m.," said Peggy Hibbard, who lived downstairs, "I heard somebody beating on the door."

The family of four on the bottom level woke up to their home engulfed in smoke. Both families say they wish their landlord would have taken immediate action.

"He could have called somebody," said Whitman.

"It couldn't have been that hard to pick up the phone and say 'Hey I own an apartment building, they don't have electric upstairs, something is wrong with the breaker box, can you swing by and check it out'," said Brear.

Brear believes the fire started in their apartment.

"The fire marshal said it started in her bedroom and that's where the breaker box was," said Brear.

According to the landlord's attorney all that was a reported was there that there was no electricity. He said there was no indication this was a hazardous or dangerous situation.

Fire officials have not released a cause or source of the fire, but say it is not suspicious.

If you would like to help both families affected by this fire, you can donate to the Austin Whitman Fund at any U.S. Bank. Donations will be divided equally among both families.

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