House saved during fire

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 13, 2001

A Greenville Fire unit responded to the Central community on Thursday to assist with a house fire, and despite the distance from town, they were able to salvage a good portion of the home. Fortunately, there were no occupants inside at the time.

"We received a call from E-911 to respond to 8131 Halso Mill Rd., for a reported house fire," said Fire Chief Mike Phillips. "When we arrived, there was heavy smoke coming from all sides of the home, but the fire had not yet broken out."

Phillips said that the next door neighbor reported the fire to E-911 at approximately 9:18 a.m.

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"The neighbor said that when he looked out from his house, he could see the smoke-when we first arrived, it was not known if anyone was inside or not."

Phillips explained that when there is a possibility of life-hazard in a structure fire, the first priority for fire personnel is to search for them.

"If we were to just open up a door and start spraying water into the building, then the little bit of clean air that is at the bottom of the room, what we call a thermal balance', would be mixed up with the heat and smoke-if there were survivors inside, they would no longer be able to breathe, and would perish before we could get them out," Phillips said.

Phillips said because it was not known if the owner, Tim Philfer or his family was inside, his men had to make their way in to the building with a new infrared camera, performing a search and recovery effort before they could begin to contain the fire.

"This is an extremely dangerous procedure for firefighters," Phillips said. "They are not yet attempting to extinguish the fire, so it continues to grow hotter, and spread further."

What was unusual about this fire, was that it had not progressed as fast as they (firefighters) would have expected a mobile home to do."

Phillips said that the construction of a mobile home has changed substantially."There have been tremendous advancements made in the way a manufactured home is built.

"In the past, when we responded to a trailer that was further than five minutes away, we pretty much knew it would be totally involved in fire when we arrived-that was not the case with this fire, because it was built so tightly'-the walls and ceilings are built very much like a conventional home now, so they resist fire longer."

At one point, Phillips said he ordered his men to evacuate the building.

"While the men were performing the search, the fire nearly reached a stage that we call flashover'-where the contents of the building have become so hot that they burst violently into flames."

Fortunately, said Phillips, the men were able to complete the search at same time as he ordered the evacuation.

"Once they were back outside, we were able to extinguish the fire in pretty short order," Phillips said.

The home sustained moderate damage, especially to the floors, said Philips.

"The structure was so sound, that the fire burned through the flooring first," he said.

After the fire was extinguished, during what firefighters call the overhaul, or "mop-up" stage, they had the opportunity to really see the danger they faced.

"I was able to see where I was at when Chief Phillips called us out," said Lt. Alvin Sullivan. "If we had gone another three feet before he called us, we would have fallen through the floor, because it had already burned through."

Chief Phillips said that the home sustained damage to approximately 50-percent of the structure, and 60-percent of the contents. "What most people consider the most valuable, and irreplaceable in the event of a fire, are the pictures of loved ones hanging on the walls-the wall hangings were all saved in this home."

Phillips said that the fire, which took approximately 1,000 gallons of water to extinguish, originated in a bedroom.

"Our investigation determined that the fire probably started from an electric heater in the master bedroom," he said.

"We have seen a sharp increase in house fires this season, all across the state," Phillips said. "That can be attributed to the sharp increase in heating fuel costs-people are seeking alternative methods of heating.

"We want to caution everyone to be very careful concerning supplemental heating, and most importantly, install and regularly check smoke detectors for operation."

Phillips said that although there is more public awareness about early warning smoke detectors, there are a surprising number of homes that still do not have one.

"A high percentage of the homes we have responded to fire alarms at have no detectors installed, or they don't have a battery in them."