Two fires lead to one death

Photo by Terry Lewis

Photo by Terry Lewis

ALBANY, Ga. -- Two home blazes that struck three hours apart on Sunday and produced one fatality are sober reminders about the importance of practicing basic fire safety during frigid weather.

About 10:30 p.m. Sunday, the Albany Fire Department was called out to a structure fire at 461 Kingswood Court -- the home of Marjorie Hanson, thought to be in her early 60s.

"The bedroom was on fire," said AFD Chief James Carswell. "We were told someone was possibly inside.

"Two people tried to go in, but they were held back."

Hanson, who died of smoke inhalation, was found at the foot of her bed. The fire is thought to have been sparked by her smoking in bed.

"She awakened, was overcome with smoke and fell down," Carswell said. "She didn't get up."

Once Hanson was removed from the building, she was turned over to Dougherty EMS personnel. She was declared dead at the scene.

Hanson's death demonstrates an important lesson in fire safety, the fire chief said.

"We are always concerned with people leaving cigarettes by furniture or the bed," he said. "We encourage people not to do that at all."

Earlier in the evening at 7:30 p.m., a family on the 2400 block of Hemlock Drive in South Albany had a scare when a fireplace fire in their home got out of control.

Carswell said it was possible the fireplace may have been overloaded.

"We had to tear out the wall to get the fire out," the chief said. "It did considerable damage."

The chimney had to be taken off the house. About 20 percent of the structure was destroyed by the fire, with smoke damage throughout. All the occupants got out safely.

Those fires occurred when the nighttime temperatures were still in the mid-30s to low 40s. The low for Albany shortly before dawn Monday was 28 degrees.

The National Weather Service is predicting the cold to continue -- and worsen -- this week. The service predicted the low just before sunrise today to fall to 23 degrees and predicted the lows to stay in the 22-26 degree range until Friday night, when it's expected to be slightly above freezing at 34 degrees. The mercury is only expected to reach as high as the 50-degree mark during the day today and Wednesday, but then will rise to a high of 57 Thursday and 64 on Friday.

That forecast has firefighters concerned about a third common cause of household fires in addition to bedside smoking and unexpectedly dangerous fireplaces -- improper use of space heaters, which come into play when deep chills set in.

One of the main safety considerations to remember about space heating devices, fire officials say, is to be sure to keep them at least three feet away from anything combustible.

"People bring them in too close," Carswell said. "Be sure to keep your distance.

"Also, never leave them on at night and make sure they are in good working order."