Family loses home in afternoon blaze

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 6, 2000

A Lincoln County family was left empty-handed Wednesdayafternoon as their home went up in flames, destroying almosteverything.

Retha Brown was in the living room with her four-year-oldgrandson, Manyontrey Gines, and a friend, Shirley Braxton, around 2p.m. yesterday when she was alerted to the fire in the house at atthe corner of Madison and Howard Road.

“Shirley said she smelled something burning, like paper, so Iwent to the back bedroom and it was already on fire,” saidBrown.

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The group ran out the front door as the house quickly filledwith smoke.

Brown was only able to grab her purse and a rug from the carportas she ran to safety as flames quickly engulfed the backbedroom.

Some of her neighbors called 911, and Brown waited forassistance.

While waiting for firetrucks to arrived, some of Brown’sneighbors used a water hose from the backyard in an attempt tocontrol the fire. Even though many neighboring houses also hadwater hoses, no other attempts were made to put out the fire.

During the approximately 15-minute wait for assistance, Brownjust stared at the home she had shared with her husband, Freddie,for many years. She did not let the loss dampen her spirit or herfaith in God’s work.

“It like my preacher said, ‘When someone gives you a lemon, makelemonade,'” said Brown, mentioning how the loss was only materialand not a human life.

A crowd of at least 50 neighbors also stood by and watched thehouse burn from one end to the other while looking for volunteerfirefighters to come to the rescue.

Many became angry because of the length of time they had beenwatching the fire burn without seeing the first firefighter.

“They need to do something,” said Selina Arnold. “I feel likethe Brookhaven Fire Department should have come out here. They’rethe closest.”

Due to the location of the house, which is at least half of amile outside the city limits in the Brignall subdivision, theBrookhaven Fire Department was not dispatched. Volunteerfirefighters from New Sight, Loyd Star, Hog Chain, Bogue Chitto,East Lincoln and Heuck’s Retreat responded instead.

When a single volunteer fireman arrived in his personal vehicle,the crowd began shouting angrily at him.

The fireman tried to explain to the crowd that the firetruckswere on the way. He then had to call for sheriff’s deputies becausethe crowd began cursing at him.

Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey, who oversees thevolunteer fire departments, explained why it took so long forassistance to arrive.

“All fire departments in the county are staffed by volunteers,”he said. “They carry radios and pagers. They do not sit at thestation waiting for a fire. They have to work, and they are notcompensated for this in any way.

“When there’s a fire, they have to first go to the fire stationto get the firetruck, then go to the fire,” said Galey, adding thatmany volunteers have to use vacation time or sick leave from workto fight fires, so they are actually losing money to helpothers.

Galey also pointed out that the fire occurred during the middleof the day, which is when most people are at work.

“It just takes a little longer for us to get to a fire in theday because of the simple fact that people are at work,” heexplained.

When a firetruck, armed with only two firefighters, did arriveon the scene, their efforts were still hindered, not by theshouting crowd, which had been quieted by deputies, but by thesilent, unmoving crowd.

The crowd watched as three firefighters struggled to unroll theheavy water hoses and get them hooked up to the truck.

Several men walked by a firetruck and just looked on as afirefighter struggled to unhook a ladder from the truck.

One neighbor, Jerry Magee, realized the task was difficultbecause the volunteers were short-handed at that point, so hehelped unroll hoses and spray down the house.

Within minutes of the arrival of the first firefighter, dozensof other volunteer firefighters showed up.

They worked to put out the fire, but the house was a totalloss.

Freddie Brown was saddened by the great loss, but he was alsograteful for the effort of firefighters.

“We sure appreciate them,” he said, adding that he alsoappreciated the help from a few neighbors.

The Browns plan to rely on their family during this time ofneed, but neighbors also plan to provide assistance.

“We’re going to help them out and see what they need becausethey didn’t save anything,” said Arnold.