First responders don't give up search for owner

By Anna Carrera

Published 01/30 2014 05:44PM

Updated 01/30 2014 06:09PM

HOMER -- After nearly 450 man hours of searching, investigators say they found a body inside a burned out home in Vermilion County. Officials have been looking for the owner ever since it burned down Friday. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera follows up on the findings.

Authorities thought they found Jeffrey Ward's remains last week, but they turned out to be an animal's. Homer's fire chief says, this time, they know it's him.

After a fire started Friday night, first responders rushed to the scene. They put it out, but were left with many questions.

"We'll probably never know how this fire started just because of the magnitude of the fire."

The home was about six miles southeast of Homer, just over the Vermilion County border. Its owner was nowhere to be found.

"We all met out there and took a lot of the debris out there and sifted through it and found what the State Fire Marshal thought was the remains that we were looking for."

Investigators found they were animal remains. So, more firefighters headed back out to search for clues.

"Wednesday, we went out probably with 25 different fire departments. Two or three people from each department. We had about 50 - 60 people out there. We just took everything we could out of the basement and just sifted out through it to see if we could find anything."

They found more remains then, but the State Fire Marshal's crew still came out to look. Workers brought in heavy equipment, started digging and, within a couple hours, found Ward's body buried under four feet of rubble.

"The body has been found."

It's the first fire fatality in Homer in more than 25-years.

"In one sense, I feel bad that this is the way it turned out. But, to be able to get closure, it means a lot."

The fire chief says he knew Ward. He was a semi-truck driver and "all-around good person." The coroner says Ward's brother was planning to come here to see if the remains matched his DNA.

A neighbor reported the fire about 10:30 pm, Friday. Homer's fire chief was first on scene. He says first responders form seven departments worked in near white-out conditions to extinguish the blaze. Investigators say the wind was a major reason the fire spread so quickly.

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