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February 14, 2012

Kielbasa Blaze: Smokehouse catches fire on East Side

NEW CASTLE — It might have been the best-smelling blaze the New Castle fire department ever put out.

Firefighters responded about 11:30 a.m. Monday to 817 E. Lutton St. It was there that Cash Koszela was using applewood to smoke about 200 pounds of kielbasa in a backyard smokehouse when the operation overheated.

Three trucks and an ambulance responded. Firefighters rescued the sausage.

Koszela said he had preheated the smokehouse, “but it got too hot.”

The temperature was about 300 degrees, he said, but when he opened the door to drop the temperature, he saw flames inside. He said he threw some snow into the building and called the fire department.

Koszela also had a fire extinguisher in his garage, next to the shed. He did not use it.

He said his sausage spent only three hours in the smoke, usually, he said, four hours are required. “It’s done, and it doesn’t appear to be burned,” he said of his product.

The smokehouse is about 20 feet square, Koszela said, and estimated it would cost $2,500 to $3,000 to replace it. He plans to rebuild and estimates he’ll be back in business within two weeks.

“As soon as things dry out.”

Koszela told the firefighters he has been smoking sausage for 30 to 35 years and “this is only the second time this has happened.”

He said he believes neighborhood kids were responsible for the first fire, which was about 18 to 20 years ago.

“I was still working,” the retired meat cutter said. “I got a call at work. I thought it was my house that was burning down. I told them ‘Call the fire department.’”

Firefighters said they are amazed at the ingenious system Koszela has rigged.

The concrete fire pit, outside and behind the smokehouse, pipes smoke into the shed, which firefighters said is an old, tin-lined walk-in cooler surrounded by wood siding on a concrete pad. Firefighters dismantled the shed in the course of controlling the blaze, careful not to damage the tin interior.

Fireman Craig Wethli said the problem Monday was a grease fire.

“It started on the floor (of the smokehouse) then, as the heat built, the flames went up the insulation to the roof.”

Assistant fire chief David Joseph said he accepts Koszela’s assessment that the smoker just got too hot.

“The heat builds up in these things,” he said. Then, noting the smell of smoked meat in the air added, “This is definitely the best-smelling fire we’ve seen in a long time.”

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