HOLIDAY HILLS – Todd Houser gathered his belongings in trash bags to put into a van shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday and brought them out of a fire-damaged house. He looked through a box of Hot Wheels toy cars for his 2-year old son.
“He loves these things,” Todd Houser said. “I was going to try to clean them, but if the smell doesn’t come off, I’m going to throw them away. It smells horrible.”
A fire Sunday morning wrecked the Hyde Park Avenue home where Houser, his brother, Barry Houser, and Barry’s girlfriend, Michelle Luczak, lived.
No one was injured in the blaze that started shortly after 7:30 a.m. The outcome might have been different, though, were it not for a couple of neighbors who were up early preparing to go ice fishing.
Todd Houser was sleeping in the house with his 2-year-old son, Kaleo, who stays with him on weekends, when he heard banging on the front door and then saw smoke. All four people escaped from the house.
“I saw a lot of smoke coming from the rear of the house,” said Anthony Swiatkowski, who was at the home of his friend, Shane Gatza, at 2503 Bittersweet. “My buddy said, ‘I think the house is on fire.’ ”
Swiatkowski and Gatza raced across backyards to the home at 2412 Hyde Park Ave., where smoke was billowing from the rear.
“He took the back and I took the front and we started pounding on the doors,” Swiatkowski said. “No one answered, so I booted open the front door and started screaming, ‘Your house is on fire, your house is on fire!’ and finally got one of the guys up.
“I said, ‘Do you have kids?’ and he said, ‘yes,’ and I said ‘Well, get them and get out because your house is on fire.’ ”
McHenry Township Fire Lt. Tom Ruggero said the initial damage estimate was about $300,000 and the house was a total loss.
Ruggero said the fire still was under investigation, but said after a preliminary investigation, a high-intensity halogen lamp that was left on was believed to have led to the fire.
The back deck was destroyed, part of the roof caved in, and the windows have been boarded up.
Firefighters were able to pull most of the Christmas presents out of the house, Ruggero said.
Mary Croft, who lives next door to the house that burned, said Barry Houser looked stunned as he watched the firefighters work on his burning house.
“I looked out my back porch this morning and the whole back of the house was going up,” she said. “It’s terrible.”
Wauconda, Fox Lake, Nunda Rural and Round Lake fire departments assisted on the call.
Ruggero said the Red Cross and The Salvation Army were notified. Todd Houser said he and his brother planned to stay in a hotel Sunday evening.
“It’s almost like a dream,” Todd Houser said. “I can’t believe this has happened.”