House fire in St. Joe kills woman, hurts 2 firefighters

March 9, 2019

A woman died and two firefighters were seriously injured as they tried to save her from a burning house in St. Joe, authorities said Friday.

The woman perished along with her dog Thursday while other family members were able to escape the fire in the 200 block of Widney Street, according to Jeff Studebaker, a St. Joe town board member who witnessed the fire.

DeKalb County Coroner Michael Gerber identified the woman as Karen Hensinger. He didn’t know her exact age but said she was in her late 70s or 80s. She died from smoke inhalation, he said.

It’s unclear what caused the fire, which started about 5:30 p.m. The State Fire Marshal is investigating.

One firefighter suffered smoke inhalation and the other had burns, said Studebaker, who said one of the firefighters was flown to a hospital in Indianapolis.

“Basically, from what I understand, (the fire) backdrafted as they were attempting to go in and rescue this lady,” Studebaker said. 

A backdraft occurs when oxygen is depleted in a fire and then a source of oxygen, such as an open window or door, causes an explosion, said Adam O’Connor, Fort Wayne Fire Department deputy chief.

“Until an investigation is completed, it is very hard to distinguish between a backdraft or an explosion caused by a carbon-based fuel such as natural gas, gasoline or kerosene,” O’Connor added. 

The St. Joe, Spencerville, Butler and Grabill fire departments responded to the blaze, Studebaker said.