Elderly woman dies during massive mansion fire in Columbia, Illinois

COLUMBIA, Ill. - An 86-year-old woman died early Thursday morning during a massive house fire in Columbia, Illinois.

The St. Clair County Coroner’s Office identified the victim as Carol Saylor, who lived in the home with her daughter and son-in-law, Joe Koppeis.

Koppeis is a well-known Columbia developer and benefactor. He and his wife were away on vacation in Florida with their grandchildren when the fire began.

The fire broke out in the 7000 block of Summit View Drive around 3:00 a.m. Thursday. The home was already fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.

Saylor called to report the fire and could not escape. When firefighters arrived, they tried to make entry but couldn’t. There was just too much fire.

At least eight fire departments responded to help fight the flames and also to ferry water to the scene since there was no hydrant nearby. Firefighters even used water from a backyard swimming pool.

The home was said to be a total loss.

The call came just as storms rolled through the area. Neighbors said they heard lightning strikes this morning. One of the strikes was loud enough to shake the area.

A lightning strike is being considered among the possible causes, firefighters said. The Illinois State Fire Marshal is investigating.

The Koppeises flew home from Florida when they learned of the fire Thursday morning. Koppeis had only a short, tearful message in response to the fatal fire: "please keep us in your prayers.”

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