Palmyra woman in serious condition after being rescued from burning home

Posted: Dec. 1, 2012 5:55 pm Updated: Dec. 22, 2012 6:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

PALMYRA, Mo. — A Palmyra woman was listed in serious condition Saturday night at the University of Missouri Medical Center in Columbia where she was taken after being rescued from her burning home Saturday morning.

Darlene Von Thun was carried out of her smoke-filled home at 116 W. Ross St. by firefighters who went inside to search for possible occupants after the fire was discovered shortly before 9 a.m.

Fire Chief Gary Crane of the Palmyra Fire Department said firefighters wearing breathing apparatus found Von Thun in her bedroom.

"She was breathing, but she was not coherent as to what was going on," he said.

Von Thun was rushed to Hannibal Regional Hospital by the Marion County Ambulance Service and was later airlifted to the Columbia trauma center.

"I think it was due to some respiratory problems," Crane said. "She inhaled some of the smoke."

The fire was initially reported at 8:49 a.m. Saturday by Crane himself. Crane said he was heading home from an earlier Fire Department service call when he saw smoke along Ross Street. He then spotted a man in the street who was in the process of trying to call 911. The man recognized Crane as the fire chief and pointed to Von Thun's house.

"I saw the fire coming out of the kitchen window," Crane said.

Crane then radioed the 911 center to report the fire.

Crane said some neighbors appearing on the scene told him they thought two people might be inside the burning house — Von Thun and her husband. As it turned out, Von Thun's husband had gone hunting that morning, but nobody at the fire scene knew that at the time.

Crane radioed the 911 dispatcher again and asked that an ambulance be sent to the scene. He also requested mutual aid from the Hannibal Fire Department.

Crane said the first Palmyra firetruck arrived in a matter of minutes. Two of the volunteer firefighters arriving with that truck — Devin Nelson and Lt. Mark Heidbreder — donned breathing apparatus and went into the back door of the house to search for fire victims. They found Von Thun and carried her outside.

Crane said he and another firefighter went through the front door and conducted a full search of the house for Von Thun's husband.

"Then we got the word he was hunting," Crane said.

Crane credited Nelson and Heidbreder for saving Von Thun's life. He said the two firefighters managed to find the woman in the smoke-filled home by "staying down low and using good firefighting tactics."

A small dog also was saved when firefighters entered Von Thun's home.

"As soon as we opened the door to come in, the dog came out," Crane said. "The dog was wanting out of there."

Crane said this marked the first time since 1987 that a person has been rescued from a burning home in Palmyra. He knows this because he was involved in the 1987 rescue of a local woman. He was an assistant chief with the fire department at that time.

Crane said Saturday's fire was contained to the kitchen area of Von Thun's home.  

"It looked like it was orientated around the stove area," he said.

He said firefighters put out the fire quickly, but the entire home sustained smoke damage while portions of it also had some fire and water damage. He said a portion of the roof had to be removed to let firefighters spray water into the attic.

Crane said an investigator from the state fire marshal's office was summoned but was unable to pinpoint the fire's cause.

"He was probably going to label it as ‘inconclusive,' " Crane said. "They really couldn't find what the problem was."