Resident unaccounted for as home burns

Owner out of town for the weekend; Returned Sunday to find his home gone.An early morning fire last weekend ended in the total loss of a home near Merna, and prompted a search for the home owner. According to Merna Fire Chief Dave Beals, the call came in at 12:10 a.m. Saturday, July 9, of a house fire on the Victoria Springs Road east of Merna at the Robert Schmitz residence. Beals says when the fire department arrived at the scene they found the house fully involved with fire. He was also initially unsure whether or not anyone was in the house. Fire fighters and neighbors knew Schmitz lived alone in the home. When he was not immediately seen Beals said they began checking vehicles on the property. He says he was familiar enough with Schmitz to notice a pick up was missing, but was not sure if Schmitz was in the pick up. To be on the safe side an attempt to locate was put out through the Custer County Sheriff’s Office and over the local radio. By early Saturday afternoon, when Schmitz had still not been located, Beals said they decided to dig out the house to make sure he had not been inside. “I was pretty confident he was not there, but I did not feel comfortable leaving the scene without checking first,” Beals explained. Their search yielded the results Beals and the Sheriff’s office had hoped for - Schmitz was not there. Apparently he had gone out of town for the weekend and returned home Sunday evening to find his home gone. The Merna Fire Department was assisted in the fire by tankers and a mutual aid truck from Broken Bow, which provided lighting on the scene, and tankers from Anselmo. A total of 25 fire fighters were on scene, along with the Custer County Sheriff’s Office and State Fire Marshall investigator. The last unit cleared the scene at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Beals said the fire marshall’s initial report indicates the fire was electrical in nature and started in the attic of the home. The fire marshall estimated the total loss at $40,000 to $50,000.