Fire marshal investigates possible arson
Published 4:32 pm Tuesday, October 25, 2005
By By Adam Prestridge
It is still unknown what caused the huge fire that destroyed an Atmore family's home Thursday afternoon.
Fortunately, Earl and Katherine Reynolds were not inside their 201 Jack Springs Road home when the fire began even though many onlookers believed the couple along with their daughter were still inside.
"It was fully involved when we got there," Atmore Fire &Rescue chief Gerry McGhee said. "When we pulled up on the scene somebody said that there was someone in the house. The reason we thought someone might be in the house is because we had to go help the ambulance load a lady that lived there that can't get around too good. I know that she is on oxygen and when we pulled up the oxygen tanks started going off. I was not going to let anybody in the house until we were sure the fire was under control. I feared for my men's safety. After we got the fire under control we went in and searched for bodies. Luckily, nobody was at home."
While the fire was still involved, a family member helped take the burden off the shoulders of the firemen battling the blaze by making a phone call that confirmed the family was not at home. The couple had left early Thursday morning to visit a Mobile hospital.
The fire department received the fire call around 1:44 p.m. Although the home was a total loss, firefighters were able to begin extinguishing the fire quickly.
"It was a big fire," McGhee said. "What helped us out a lot was having a fire hydrant at the driveway. We didn't have any problems having enough water. If we would have had problems with water it might have burned all the way to the ground. Luckily, we had all the water supply we needed.
"Most of the burn area was around the kitchen and one of the bedrooms," McGhee added. "That's why we called the State Fire Marshal's in. They can determine what caused it and perform a more thorough investigation."
Eight firemen battled the blaze for over an hour before the Poarch Volunteer Fire Department was called in to relieve the exhausted men.
"It was real hot and a lot of my men got exhausted, so that's when I called the Poarch Fire Department to come back us up; to give some of my men relief," McGhee said.
Twenty-year veteran Louis English Jr., 42, was one of Atmore's finest on the scene. He changed out three oxygen bottles and entered the burning home three times while fighting the fire.
"It pretty much got the best of me," English said. "I tried standing up two or three times, but couldn't. I was dizzy."
English said he pushed himself to continue fighting the fire because of limited personnel.
"We did what we had to do," English said. "I didn't want the fire to escalate. Everybody was exhausted and I was trying to contain it the best I could along with the other firemen."
A representative with the State Fire Marshal's Office was on the scene Friday investigating the cause of the fire. As of press time Friday, no cause had been determined.
"Right now we've turned the investigation over to the State Fire Marshal's Office," McGhee said. "When we pulled up on the scene a person came by and said he saw two young people running from the back of the house with two gas cans, so we determined that it could be arson. We turned around and called the State Fire Marshal's Office and they sent a marshal out of Monroeville to investigate."
A K-9 unit was dispatched to try to pick up a scent from the home to the woods to help in the arson investigation. A few failed tracks were found.
Also on the scene was the Atmore Police Department, which blocked off Jack Springs Road and redirected traffic; Alabama Power and Kelley's Ambulance Service.
"We really appreciate Kelley's Ambulance showing up because they kept everybody hydrated and even helped pull hose," McGhee said. "The police department was a tremendous help. My men did a fantastic job."
No injuries were reported.