Instead of coming back to an empty house after a week out of town, a Castalia family will return to the charred remains of their home.
The home at 8706 Rogers Road, owned by Christopher and Jodi Conley, sustained extensive damage Tuesday evening after a fire engulfed the two-story structure.
The couple, along with their two daughters, Caitilin, 11, and Courtney, 9, were out of town. Family were house-sitting when the fire started, said John Conley, father to Christopher.
Two adults, two dogs and a cat escaped the home without serious injury. They, along with neighbors and passersby, watched as a plume of smoke erupted from the backside of the building.
"It looks like there was a malfunction in the gas grill out back," said Margaretta Township fire Chief Tom Keimer. "It was going pretty good when we got here."
Neighbor and family friend Tim Rotsinger said he saw the fire on his way home from work, ran to the home and got everyone out and called 911.
Conley said a neighbor with a police scanner notified him about the blaze.
"I was almost over here before the fire trucks," he said. "It was just a mess. You couldn't tell it was gonna be bad."
Conley said he talked to his son on the phone after arriving at the fire.
"I told them there is nothing they can do," he said.
Smoke emanating from the home could be seen from miles away.
"The back of the house burned up first," said neighbor Fred Myerholtz. "You couldn't hardly see anything but smoke."
A few years ago a rural water line was installed in the area, said neighbor Harry McCune.
"If it weren't for that, this house may have burned to the ground," he said. "This is the worst thing that's ever happened out here."
The Conleys purchased the home in 1997 for $200,000, according to the Erie County Auditor's office Web site. The brick, single-family home with a two-car garage was built in 1985.
Firefighters from Sandusky and Groton Township assisted Margaretta firefighters at the scene.
"The fire departments responded terrifically," Conley said.
Firefighters from Bellevue, Perkins Township, Huron and Bay View helped off-scene by handling calls made to departments working the fire.
After flames were extinguished, firefighters tossed burnt toys from the upper level of the home and sifted through debris.
A final damage amount and official cause was still being determined Tuesday night, Keimer said.
The bottom floor of the home sustained mostly water damage. There was smoke and heat damage throughout the upper level, he said.
The two people who were house-sitting were taken to Firelands Regional Medical Center for minor smoke inhalation, Keimer said.
"The end result is everybody is still alive," Rotsinger said.