As rubble of $4 million Indian Hill house smolders, investigation into cause begins

INDIAN HILL, Ohio – Smoke and flames have given way to questions as the investigation into the cause of a fire at a $4 million home lingers on. 

On Sunday, arson investigators sifted through the wreckage at the lot in the 9600 block of Cunningham Road where the palatial estate stood until Friday afternoon. Investigators are waiting for excavation equipment to help them determine what happened.

More than 80 firefighters worked to put out the Jan. 10 blaze that swallowed the 10,000 square-foot residence in 30 feet high flames and belched up black smoke that could be seen from as far away as Kenwood and Loveland.

The home is a total loss.

"Please pray for my family, you will soon see on the news that our home has burned down and there is nothing left of our possessions,” wrote Chase Decker, 20, the son of the homeowners, Maria and J.R. Decker.

PHOTOS: Scene of Indian Hill fire

Besides the initial spark that started the blaze, miscommunication between dispatch and first responders, a lack of ample water on site where the house sat and no sprinkler system helped to fan flames.

"The one lesson is if you're building a house and you can ... if you want to sprinkle it ... that kind of puts a firefighter there all the time to put water on the fire, but this house was not sprinkled so we didn't have that advantage," explained Capt. Clarence Smith of the Madeira-Indian Hill Fire District.

The fire district also lacked the advantage of public fire hydrants and close proximity to the road. The Deckers' property did have a private hydrant installed, but the device’s water reservoir was quickly depleted.

"I at first thought the woods were on fire behind my house," said Paula Maxwell, who lived behind the house.

Paula’s husband, Paul, was just grateful it was not a windy day.

"It borders the woods you can see, and luckily it's not a windy day," he said. "It's wet so we're hoping that it will be contained."

The dampness might have protected neighbors, but the lack of water fighting the fire only hampered crews as they watched the flames spread while waiting for a tanker relay system to arrive.

Multiple fire departments were called in to deliver loads of water by truck. Crews would unload that water into catch basins, and then use engines to pump the water down the driveway - a quarter-mile to the house.

As of Sunday night, investigators were unsure when they would determine a cause for the fire, but there was a small blessing among the ruins.

“Thankfully everyone is safe including our dogs....” wrote Chase.

WCPO reporters Bryce Anslinger and Brendan Keefe contributed to this report.

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