Jan. 31–FRANKLIN — The volunteer fire department in this Morgan County village was mourning for one of their own on Tuesday after an early-morning fire swept through a firefighter’s home, killing his wife and two small children.
Jonathan Austif, a U.S. Marine veteran and a volunteer firefighter for about four years, was injured when he jumped out of a second-story window after fire broke out at his home at 409 Main St. about 2:20 a.m., authorities said. He was listed in good condition at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Austif’s wife, Betsie Austif, who turned 26 on Tuesday, and their two children, Jacob, 3, and Jocelyn, 2 months, were pronounced dead inside of the home, Morgan County Coroner Jeff Lair said.
Franklin Fire Chief Gerald Wilson, speaking at an afternoon news conference, said the fire has hit the members of his department hard.
“My department is going through a lot of turmoil right now,” Wilson said. “It’s hard enough when it’s somebody you know. When you get kids involved, it makes it even tougher. Right now, my guys are grieving as much as they can grieve. We’re waiting on counseling. … We just have to go through it one day at a time.
“(Austif was) one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He will do anything for you. He was a Marine, loved his family, loved what he did. Outgoing guy,” Wilson said.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation.
Barb Barber, who lives about a block away from the home, said she was awakened by what sounded like a “train wreck” and that the flames, even from several doors down, lit up her own house. Barber said firefighters arrived quickly, and at one point there was another loud boom followed by flames shooting high into the sky.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Barber said.
Friends set up a page on the fundraising website YouCaring to help raise money for the family. In addition, the Jacksonville-Morgan County Office of Emergency Management said donations for the family can be sent to Community State Bank of Franklin, which can be reached at (217) 675-2311 or email@example.com.
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