Family loses home to fire
An attic fire swept through the home of Gary and Tammy Dykes Wednesday, destroying their three-story house in a matter of hours.
Tammy was home with her children Wednesday afternoon when an upstairs smoke alarm went off. Checking for smoke, she opened an attic door and saw the smoke. She quickly tried to call 911, but the fire had burned through the phone lines, rendering her phone useless.
Since the Dykes live a distance from town on their 40-acre parcel southeast of the Douglas County airport, Tammy had to drive to the nearest phone at the airport to call.
It didn’t take long for the house to be fully engaged. Gary, a dental lab technician in Minden, was at work in the office of dentist David Lund at the time the fire broke out.
“He tore out of here at 3:30,” Lund said. “At that time we didn’t even know that it was his house.”
Volunteers from the various fire departments in the Valley – Genoa, Fish Springs, Jacks Valley, Gardnerville Ranchos, Douglas County, Johnson Lane, and Sheridan – all answered the call. Also assisting were the Washoe Valley volunteer firefighters, the Douglas County Road Department, the Nevada Division of Forestry, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, the Nevada Highway Patrol, Project Hope and Bently Nevada.
There were yellow-clad fire fighters everywhere – 50 of them, according to incident commander, Jim Reinhardt, who is also the Douglas County Fire Chief.
He said a fire in the chimney of the house’s woodstove caused the blaze.
“The family used their wood stove last night (Tuesday),” he said. “They have two woodburning stoves that funnel into one metal chimney. What probably happened is that the strong northeast winds (we typically have winds from the southwest west, he said) might have loosened up a connection in the chimney, letting the fire go into the attic and smolder overnight.
“At approximately 3 p.m. today (Wednesday), an upstairs smoke alarm went off,” Reinhardt said. “When Mrs. Dykes went to call for help, her phone didn’t work because the fire had already destroyed the phone line, so she had to drive to call for help. We lost some time right there.”
Asked if that amount of time could have saved the house, Reinhardt shook his head and said, “It’s really hard to say. These winds sure didn’t help.”
Winds Tuesday gusted up to 50 mph out of the northeast, according to Hutt Aviation dispatcher, Marguerite Collins at the Douglas County Airport. She said the winds gusted up to 40 mph Wednesday.
Reinhardt also said after firefighters got into the circa 1912 Virginia City home, they found that the walls and floors of the structure had sawdust for insulation.
The Dykes’ house was built in 1912 in Virginia City and moved a few times before finally landing on their site 14 years ago.
“These old buildings are well built,” Reinhardt said. “They’re all hand hewn and rough cut with actual size boards. This house had lath and plaster walls we had to break through, which involves going through chicken wire, and that is a real chore. Older houses are definitely very well built, but when they catch fire, they’re hard to save.
“All the volunteers did an excellent job, though,” he said.
As the fire burned at what should have been dinner time Wednesday night, Gary and Tammy huddled in their truck, watching. Youngest son, Pierce, 3, slept under a blanket in the back seat – the only Dykes getting any peace at that moment. The couple’s three other children; Jenna, 7, Ben, 14, and Carah, 15, were with friends.
At that time, 6:30 p.m., Reinhardt was making some hard decisions. “The fire is in the floor joists now,” he said. “We’re at a critical point here. We have to decide whether to go in and get as much of the family’s personal belongings out as we can, and then start tearing it down, or just keep spraying down the fire.”
As time went on, fire fighters began to make a chain, passing personal belongings – a dresser, its drawers one by one, some files, a chair – from the house to an area on the ground near the Dykes’ truck.
“We’ll be OK,” Gary said softly. “We’ve had plenty of offers for help.” At that point, thinking of where the family would stay for that night – for the next several nights – was too much to think about.
“This is pretty new,” he said, still staring at the home, whose second floor had already fallen in on the main floor.
“We’re really careful about the wood stove,” Gary said. “We get the chimney cleaned regularly and everything.”
At that point, he joined the chain – perhaps trying to stifle the feeling of helplessness – and began bringing the drawers over to the dresser body and putting them in place.
Reinhardt said the fire became a official at 3 p.m. Wednesday, and by 2 a.m. Thursday it was declared out.
“By midnight, I sent most of the firefighters home,” he said, adding that a small crew stayed until 2. “We went out there first thing in the morning and it was definitely out.”
Two cockatiels were unaccounted for (two were saved) as of the next day, and Gary’s Prairie Falcon, Popeye, a bird that flies free and feeds regularly from the kitchen window, has been seen flying over the site.
Because the house was old and uninsurable, the Dykes had no fire insurance.