Owner calls accidental fire avoidable

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DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) - A Saturday afternoon fire destroyed a large shed and has left the family picking up pieces from their past.

Ann Luka says her neighbor two houses down was burning a pile of leaves. When she and her husband first noticed flames, they looked out and saw their neighbor was there tending to the fire. However, later, the flames spread to right behind the Luka's shed. That is when they panicked and called 9-11.

Ann says her husband tried to get into the shed to salvage anything possible, but it was too late, and the shed was too hot and engulfed in flames.

The shed held items like plumbing equipment from when her husband owned a plumbing company, a John Deere and much of their family's storage items like clothes and mementos.

Monday following the fire, Ann received a note and a phone call from her neighbor Tom. Ann says Tom told her he had to leave the fire and go to the hospital for his back. He believed the fire was out, but dug a trench around it just in case. Ann said he apologized in his note, but while WAND was interviewing Ann, Tom walked over and blamed the Luka's pile of leaves for the fire taking over the shed. He said they illegally dumped them in the corn field they do not own. However, Ann says their leaves were on their property and on the opposite side of the shed from where the fire started. She says they did not illegally dump leaves, and she says there is no way their leaves caused the spread of the fire.

Burning leaves and other vegetation outside of Decatur city limits is legal, but the Macon County Sheriff's Office says there are precautions you should take. Lieutenant Jamie Belcher says, "Always be ready to put that fire out. Don't do it on a windy day. A little ember from the fire could carry several hundred feet away from where you're actually burning because it could spread and start another fire."

Ann Luka says her heart is in pieces because much of what was inside the shed were sentimental items. Luka says, "I wasn't angry. I was upset, but I wasn't angry. My heart hurt because I knew all of my mother's stuff was there and it was all gone. A lot of this stuff is irreplaceable."

She says she wished she would have called 9-11 when she originally saw the flames spreading because it could have helped the situation. Ann says with proper leaf burning safety, the entire incident could have been avoided. Now, her and her family are left cleaning up old pictures, family heirlooms, and destroyed antique furniture.

Ann Luka says the Warrensburg Fire Chief estimated the damage around $50,000 to $75,000, but Ann says many items are just priceless.

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