Officials: Fires rise as temps drop

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Victoria Porter stood on the lawn at the Della Green Apartmentson Zetus Road, wrapped in a comforter, watching as firefightersattempted to save anything from the apartment she shared with herhusband and three children.

The apartment fire, which broke out about 8:20 p.m. Tuesday, wasthe second of three fire calls in as many days around the county -the first, a total loss Monday afternoon on Palmetto Trail, and thethird a short in a heater on West Lincoln Road Wednesdaymorning.

Porter said her children had been asleep on the couch in thefront room watching television, and she and her husband were tuckedin bed already when the smell of smoke woke her up.

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“All of us were asleep, but I smelled the smoke,” she said. “Ithank God he woke us up.”

The family was able to evacuate and Brookhaven Fire Departmentwas called, and while other apartments in the strip and the laundryroom were saved, but Porter’s apartment was already gone.

As smoke billowed out the chimneys and gable vents of the stripof four apartments, residents and friends gathered in the streetand in the yard watching the firefighters fight the fire and checkeach flat for problems.

Fire department officials on the scene said it looked like thefire started in the front room, and spread throughout the apartmentand into the roof. The apartment and its contents were a totalloss, officials said.

American Red Cross Regional Director Janice Vannatta said thefire affected four families who were evacuated for the night.

“Those that needed to be placed in motel last night, we didthat, and we can do that for up to three evenings,” she said. “Wecan also provide funding for clothes and shoes, personal items, andalso coats during cold snaps. That’s all done with the donordollar.”

The call on West Lincoln Road appeared to be caused by a shortin the heating system that smoked up the house, officials said.Zetus Volunteer Fire Department units arrived on scene around 8a.m. Wednesday and were able to shut off the power to preventfurther burning.

As the cold weather dips, structure fires tend to rise. Fireofficials said some are a result of overloaded wiring and problemswith space and wood-burning heaters.

Fire department officials said the colder the weather gets, themore important home precautions are.

“People need to make sure to keep portable heaters away from thewalls and furniture,” said BFD Capt. Buddy Thibodeaux. “We hate tosee anybody lose their house this time of year.”

Fellow Capt. Billy Beeson said after a few days of cold weather,fire departments are usually insured some work.

“Business here’s picking up,” he said. “After four or five daysof cold, wet, rainy weather, people will hang their clothes overthe space heaters and overload them. We’ve been to a lot of fireslike that lately.”