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Family recovers from Easter fire

ALBANY, Ga. -- An Albany family was recovering Monday after a fire destroyed part of their home on Easter Sunday.

Around 7 p.m., firefighters responded to a residence on the 2500 block of East Doublegate Drive where a fire was consuming the top half of a residence, said Albany Fire Chief James Carswell.

Carswell said the fire was exceptional large and fully involved when firefighters arrived at the scene.

"The unit at Meredyth Drive could see the column of smoke from the house when they pulled out to go to the fire," Carswell said.

When firefighters arrived at the residence, the fire had progressed through the roof and was burning through the home's attic area.

Carswell said several fire units worked throughout the night to try to contain the fire.

"At one point, we were flowing over 1,000 gallons of water a minute to try and keep it under control," the fire chief said. "Attic fires pose notorious problems for firefighters because they essentially act like an inverted chimney."

Carswell said the added elements of the shape of the attic, the amount of oxygen and the venting pose problems for firefighters trying to extinguish the flames.

At one point, firefighters attempted to pull the ceiling inside to try and fight the flames directly.

"It took us four hours or so to completely secure the area and extinguish the fire," Carswell said. "We got there at 7:05 p.m. and the last unit to leave left at 11:56 p.m."

One firefighter was injured during the night and was transported to the hospital by EMS for treatment.

According to the fire department, the fire did not damage the area of the home located below the attic, but the damage caused by the fire is estimated between $250,000 and $300,000.

Carswell said homeowner Hilary Houston told firefighters that she noticed the smell of smoke early in the evening, but thought that it was coming from outside the home.

"She (Houston) thought it might have been someone burning leaves," said the fire chief. "The alarm system was also going off, but since there was no sign of fire she turned it off. She also heard what sounded like squirrels on the roof, which happened to be the fire."

Firefighters said the fire in the attic was concealed and undetectable to occupants and neighbors until it finally burnt its way through the roof where flames could be seen.

Carswell said fire investigators believe the fire may have originated in the downstairs area of the home.

"All indicators are pointing to the origin (of the fire) to be electrical in nature," he said.

Joined by family and friends, the Houstons began the cleanup process Monday, sorting the damaged items from those that were salvageable, all while curious neighbors drove by -- some stopping and offering help, others merely peering out of their vehicles as they passed the home.

"We've just been so blessed with the help and support of everyone," said Leigh Ford, a relative of the Houston family.

According to Ford, the family has suffered past tragedies related to fires.

In 1994, Ford and her siblings lost their mother in a house fire and a few years later a peanut business owned and operated by the family in Sylvester caught fire.

"We've definitely seen our share of tragedies, especially dealing with fire," Ford said. "But, you know what? All that was lost here was a house. Brick and mortar can be replaced, but lives can't. And, thank God, we didn't lose anyone."

Albany Herald reporter J.D. Sumner contributed to this report.