A fire claimed the life of 46-year-old Jeff Piffner after he attempted to put out a fire in his home’s garage near New Athens just after 3 a.m. Monday.
Three others were able to escape the fire at the home in the 2500 block of Illinois 13 — Piffner’s wife, 47-year-old Robin Piffner, her 17-year-old daughter, Madyson Adams, and Robin’s father, 69-year-old male Ronald Schranz.
Capt. Bruce Fleshren wrote in a press release that Adams woke up to the smell of smoke and discovered the garage was on fire. After getting out of the house, Jeff Piffner went back into the garage in an attempt to extinguish the fire.
He was then trapped by “a large burst of flames from an unknown source,” Fleshren wrote.
Piffner’s body was later found in the garage by fire crews.
“It all happened pretty quick,” New Athens Fire Capt. Justin Majzel said at the scene. “There was nothing we could have done. He was in the garage and it was fully involved.”
Neighbors Vince Kiefer and his wife, Tammy, were awakened by the fire Monday. Vince Kiefer said he saw the garage fully engulfed in flames.
“Someone was pounding on my door and my dog woke us up,” Vince Kiefer said. “I could see the flames already and as I looked out it was engulfed. Had the wife call 911 and as I went over there, the rest of the family was coming out of there and around the front side. So, I knew they were OK.”
The family has rented the house from the Kiefers’ family for around five years. Vince Kiefer said Jeff Piffner was a mechanic and took pride in a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda he owned for most of his life.
“They kept saying that Jeff was still in there,” Vince Kiefer said. “And, looking at the shape the garage was in — as the fire was consuming the garage, (I thought) that if he’s in there, that’s not good.”
Officials believe the fire began in the garage of the home and a state fire marshal was at the scene investigating Monday morning. Several cars were extensively damaged in the fire.
“There is some damage (to the home) near where the garage is attached to it,” Majzel said, “but the other half of the house, there’s no damage there.”
A half dozen fire departments responded to the scene — New Athens, Freeburg, Lenzburg, Smithton, Fayetteville and Hecker — along with police and New Athens EMS.
Vince Kiefer said he had spent time with Jeff Piffner in his garage last Thursday, when the two men were working on their four-wheelers.
“Pretty good guy to know — he really was,” Vince Kiefer said. “Kind of a shame. These things happen, but it really hits home when it’s this close to home.”