Neighbors said an exploding lawn tractor started a fire that destroyed a home the afternoon of July 31 on Merwin Chase Road in Brookfield.

Brookfield firefighters were still mopping up, but Capt. James Williamson said he believes the fire started in the garage – where neighbors said the lawn tractor was – and that there was nothing suspicious.

Residents Neal and Nancy Swartz and their dog got out safely. Williamson said Neal Swartz’s hair was singed, but he had been checked out by emergency medical personnel and was “fine.”

The fire at 6638 Merwin Chase was called in at 2:19 p.m., and smoke could be seen from the West Hill and Route 82.

Jim Hennessy, who lives next door, said he had been sitting with Neal Swartz in the back yard of Swartz’s home about an hour earlier.

“He said, ‘I think I’ll get the tractor out,’” Hennessy said.

Hennessy walked home and, “Next thing I know, Bill Sawtelle is in my driveway saying the house is on fire.”

Sawtelle, another neighbor, said he was driving by when his wife saw the smoke. They pulled into the Swartz driveway. “Just as I got out of my truck, it exploded,” he said of the lawn tractor, which was in the garage.

Sawtelle said he called 911 and went after the Swartzes to make sure they were safe. A car in the garage also exploded, he said.

“After that, (the fire) just took off,” Sawtelle said.

The second explosion rattled his windows, Hennessy said. “It was a pretty good bang.”

There wasn’t much firefighters could do.

“It was through the entire house when we pulled up,” Williamson said.

The biggest issue for firefighters was water. Firefighters from Johnston, Vienna, Burghill-Vernon, Eagle Joint Fire District in Hubbard, the Youngstown-Warren Regional Air Station in Vienna, Fowler and Mecca assisted.

promoThe fire was a shock, Sawtelle said, but he was relieved that his neighbors got out OK.

“Houses can be replaced,” he said. “People can’t.”