Tipped lamp caused fatal fire in Amish community

MIDDLEFIELD, Ohio (AP) - A fire that killed three people was ignited when a large lamp tipped over, spilling fuel near a woodburning stove, fire officials said.

Mose Burkholder, 78, his wife, Lydia, 77, and their daughter, Elizabeth, 55, were found Saturday night, their son said. The members of an Amish community in Geauga County's rural Huntsburg Township were found in the front living room, where the fire began in the two-story wooden farm house.

Sunday, 10 buggies were parked outside the large barn near the Burkholder home.

The community gathered Sunday to discuss their loss. The men gathered in the barn and were smoking pipes. Women and children stayed nearby in Martha Miller's home, behind her parents' fire-damaged house. Younger men and boys walked around the remains of the house, peering inside and kicking at the charred wood on the ground.

The Amish shun modern conveniences such as electricity and telephones and hesitate to speak with those not of their faith. But the Burkholders' son, John, who lives in Middlefield, spoke briefly for his family Sunday as he stood outside in lightly falling snow.

He said his parents, who operated a farm at the site for 51 years, had two sons and five daughters. They had recently sold the farm to Martha Miller and her husband.

"Things happen quickly and you have no control over certain things," Burkholder said.

Middlefield Fire Chief Scott Anderson said the Burkholders' lamp was more than four feet tall and was a lantern on a pole connected to a tank containing petroleum.

Most lamps of that type have a check valve that is designed to stop the flow of fuel if it is tipped over, but the Burkholders' lamp did not, Anderson said.

When the lamp tipped, a large amount of liquid escaped.

"That is why it burned so hot and fast," he said.

The fuel was ignited when it reached the stove used to heat the house. A neighbor across the street ran south on the rutted, snow-covered road a tenth of a mile to a community telephone to call 911.

Twenty-eight members of the Middlefield Volunteer Fire Department responded, as did 40 firefighters from six other departments in Geauga and Ashtabula counties.

The area has no hydrants and six fire department water tankers were refilled at the Rolling Green Golf Course.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)