Fire destroys family home in Jefferson

January 7, 2014
Fire swept through the home of Butch and Nelda Kern in Jefferson Fairgrounds Tuesday morning. Jefferson and Waynesburg volunteer fire companies extinguished the blaze. - Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

JEFFERSON – Three people were left homeless after a fire destroyed their home early Tuesday.

Jefferson Volunteer Fire Co. was called to the home of Butch and Nelda Kern at the corner of Third and Hamilton streets in the area known as the Jefferson Fairgrounds about 2:20 a.m., Tuesday.

The Kerns and their grandson, Zachary Bryte, 15, were sleeping when the fire started in their 1-1/2 story, wood-frame residence. Bryte was awakened by a popping sound coming from the floor below his bedroom. The Kerns fled with just the clothing they were wearing; neither had time to put on shoes or socks.

“When he started going out of his room there was too much smoke and flames. He used his hand to bust a window and escape. That is how he got his hand cut,” said Jeff Kovach, Nelda Kern’s son. “My mom and Butch heard him yelling and that’s when they woke up.”

Kovach said his mother ran to the kitchen to grab a small fire extinguisher, not realizing the extent of the blaze. She quickly made the decision to leave the house, he said.

Butch Kern was the last to leave, according to Kovach.

“He made sure my mom and Zack were out and tried to find the pup. He’s always had dogs,” Kovach said. “He’s had cancer twice already and he has it again. The dogs are good for him and are always with him, 24/7.”

Not long ago, Kern made the difficult decision to put down his elderly dog because of illness, Kovach said.

“Butch’s son, Barry, and daughter-in-law, Fawna, got him Sammy, a black lab puppy. He just got her on New Years Day,” Kovach said.

Sammy did not make it out of the fire.

Bryte was treated at Southwest Regional Medical Center for multiple cuts to his feet, legs, arms and hands from the broken window glass. Kovach said he received around 100 stitches.

Kovach said neighbors, Martha Redman and JoAnn Sedmak, got the Kerns and Bryte blankets and socks to help them get warm. Redman also called Kovach to let him know what happened.

“Pretty much everything was gone. There was no saving it,” Kovach said. “We (he and his brother, Matt) were able to get just a few things out of mom and Butch’s bedroom. That was the only part of the house the fire didn’t get to yet.”

Jefferson Fire Chief Duane Walters said the fire was “pretty much involved” when firefighters arrived on scene. It was cold, the temperature was about minus-10, but the water supply proved to be adequate and none of the firefighters fighting the blaze was injured, Walters said.

Walters added he believes the fire started in the basement and was not suspicious, but the state police fire marshal was to investigate the cause. Kovach said the family had been using a woodburner in the basement to heat the home.

Jefferson Volunteer Fire Company was assisted by Waynesburg-Franklin Township Volunteer Fire Co. Firefighters were on the scene until about 6 a.m.

The Kerns and Bryte are currently staying at the nearby residence of Nelda’s mother, Martha Thorn.

Jefferson Baptist Church, 177 Pine St., Jefferson, is accepting donations for the family. Donations of clothing for the family may be dropped off at the resource building, attached to the rear of Jefferson Baptist Church.

Clothing sizes needed are ladies size 14 pants, large shirts and size 8 shoes; men’s size 32-30 pants, shirts and size 10 shoes; and men’s size 29-32 pants, medium shirts and size 10 shoes.

For more information, contact the Jefferson Baptist Church at 724-883-4088.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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