Tragedy avoided by chance happening

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 4, 2001

A Greenville resident, upon entering his home Tuesday afternoon &uot;just for a minute&uot; smelled something, and although everything looked normal, the odor alerted him to check further. The odor was smoke.

&uot;I just stopped in for a minute, on my way back to the office,&uot; said Paul Hopper, owner of Greenville Ford, when speaking of his family's home at 204 Independent St. &uot;When I got inside, I smelled smoke, but didn't see anything that looked unusual.&uot;

Hopper said the first thing he did was telephone his wife.

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&uot;I asked her if she had been burning a candle during the morning,&uot; Hopper said. &uot;It smelled like a match stick burning.&uot;

He said the next thing he did was get the Greenville Fire Department (GFD) on the way.

&uot;I didn't know what it was, but I wanted to find out,&uot; he said.

Three units from the GFD arrived on the scene within minutes, and after a quick inspection, they located the culprit.

&uot;We found that there had been an electrical problem of some type, involving an exhaust fan in the attic,&uot; said Greenville Fire Chief Mike Phillips.

&uot;Apparently some sparks had been thrown from the fan's motor, and started insulation in the attic burning,&uot; said Phillips.

Phillips said it was not possible to estimate how long the material had been smoldering.

&uot;The insulation had burned long enough to burn a two-by-four joist clean into two pieces,&uot; he said.

Phillips said that although minor damage was caused, and some of the insulation was removed from the home by firefighters, the family was very lucky.

&uot;There is no telling how long it had been smoldering, and if it had broken into flames at night, the whole roof could have burned off the house without the family ever knowing,&uot; he said.

Phillips also said that because the material was above the ceiling level, and there were vents in the roof, the smoke detectors in the home never went off.&uot;

All of the smoke was above the detectors, and went out through the vents,&uot; he said.

&uot;I sure am glad I stopped home,&uot; said Hopper, whose neighbors said that although they had smelled a smoke odor for most of the day, they didn't think anything of it, not seeing any smoke.

&uot;We thought it was just someone in the neighborhood burning some debris,&uot; one neighbor said.

"This goes to show just how important it is to call us when in doubt," Phillips said.

As firefighters came down from the attic, they were cooled down with ice cold water being poured over their heads.

Phillips said the temperature in the attic can routinely be 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit higher than outside temperatures during the summer months.