Rainfall not enough to ease fire woes statewide

Although rainfall amounts varied across the counties of the state Monday night, it is expected to give only short-term relief to the wildfires burning recently in Alabama. According to Interim State Forester Gary Cole of the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC), there was not enough rain Monday night to lift the statewide ‘No Burn’ Order. However, additional rain Tuesday and Wednesday may allow the situation to be re-assessed later this week.

“The precipitation we received should temporarily help us with the wildfire situation and hopefully more rain is on the way,” stated Cole. “This reprieve will allow firefighters some much needed rest, as well as an opportunity to perform equipment repairs and maintenance.”

Meanwhile, Monday was a historic day in the number of active wildfires burning in Alabama for one day: 108 fires destroyed 2,742 acres across the state. Cole continued, “Most of us veteran firefighters here don’t remember that many fires in one day. Not only was the number of wildfires higher, but they were also larger in size.”

“I cannot thank the men and women with the Alabama Forestry Commission enough for their dedication, tireless efforts and countless hours spent battling fires across the state,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “Because of their efforts, wildfires in Alabama have been prevented from doing extensive damage. Their commitment to protecting life, property and wildlife does not go unnoticed.”

Of Monday’s wildfires, at least eight exceeded 100 acres in size, including a 400-acre fire in Marengo County, a 357-acre fire in Russell County, and one for 235 acres in Jefferson County. There were seven fires in Wilcox County alone, burning over 700 acres. In the last 30 days, a total of 1,074 wildfires have consumed over 15,000 acres of land in Alabama. Since Oct. 1, AFC wildland firefighters, with the assistance of volunteer fire departments, have battled 2,213 wildfires burning approximately 28,787 acres across the state.

The statewide Drought Emergency ‘No Burn’ Order remains in effect which was declared by Governor Robert Bentley on Nov. 7. This regulation, prohibiting all outdoor or open burning, makes it illegal for any person to set fire to any forest, grass, woods, wildlands or marshes; build a campfire or bonfire; or burn trash or debris. If convicted, the penalty for violating the No Burn Order is up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.00. To report persons burning in violation of this law, contact your local law enforcement. For more information on the current wildfire situation in the state, visit Alabama Forestry Commission’s website at www.forestry.alabama.gov.

Saltwell Grocery damaged by fire

The Demopolis Fire Department and Jefferson Volunteer Fire Department responded to a fire at the old Saltwell Grocery location around 4PM today. DPD was the first on scene and was assisted by JVFD. The fire looked to be under control within a few minutes.

Out of the Ashes

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - Arthur Ogden surveys the damage from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden's home on Monday, January 4, 2015.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – Arthur Ogden surveys the damage from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden’s home on Monday, January 4, 2015.

I’m legendary for my status as “not a morning person.” It takes an atomic bomb to wake me up and at least two cups of coffee before anyone should ask me what my name is. But it’s amazing what adrenaline can do.

In the wee hours of Monday, January the 4th, before the sun had even begun to color the sky, my husband’s career as a football coach, his legendary status as a light sleeper and that booming coach’s voice saved us all.

He tells me that it was the 6th time he screamed my name before I answered him but the next thing he yelled was “Fire!”

I was still addled, and not thinking clearly as I ran from our bedroom to the upstairs foyer to find him beating on a tiny flicker of flame on our oldest child’s bedroom door…with his bare hand.

The bedroom door was slightly opened and my first question was where India was. My brain wasn’t all the way on but I could tell that there was light coming from her room that was surely from fire but I have a tendency to never think it’s as bad as it is. After all, he was standing there trying to extinguish flames with his bare hand…how bad could it be?

He told me she had already left for work and he began yelling the other children’s names. I too started yelling, “Up, Up, Up…let’s go.”

While I made what seemed at the time to be the logical decision to get a towel from the laundry room because you don’t beat flames with bare hands…you beat them with towels… men are so silly thinking you can battle flames with sheer force of will…towels are what are needed. Do you see why I need coffee in the morning?

By the time I returned to the foyer (no more than 10 or 15 seconds) I realized from the looks of things that I was significantly under armed with the bath towel and it was time to make sure the kids were really truly getting out of the house and not just standing around in shock.

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - This is a view from the staircase, up toward the second floor foyer.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – This is a view from the staircase, up toward the second floor foyer.

Arthur got the girls from their bedroom, that coach’s voice never fails to generate quick action, and down the front stairs. At least I think that’s how they got downstairs. All I knew was that I had seen that my girls were safe in his care and I was going after my boys.

I headed down the back hall for the boys screaming “Up, up, up” and “Move, move,move.” I found my boys both bewildered and out of bed.. I ushered the boys down the back stairs in their bedroom and shooed them toward their Papa and sisters heading out via Arthur’s office.

Again, a testimony to lack of coffee and brilliant morning emergency thinking. I had seen the mop bucket on my way through the kitchen with the boys. I told Arthur, “I’ll get a bucket.” as he called 911 and kept the children safe.

I filled a small bucket with water in the downstairs bath tub and ran upstairs via the back hall. Barefoot, as I ran onto the wooden floor of the foyer I could feel the heat in the floor itself. I hurled the water at the now flaming door and nothing noticeable happened. I said something in my head that is not fit for print and realized it was futile. The only thing to do was get out.

I’d been working with a kind of tunnel vision, where I was only seeing the most important thing in front of me at the time. Arthur’s face, flickers of fire, buckets, towels, Nathan, Benjamin, Savannah and Zarah. I looked at India’s room burning and brief flash of “what if he was wrong…what if she wasn’t at work?” went through my mind. Everything was happening so quickly. All the thoughts and actions that had already happened couldn’t have even taken more than seven or eight minutes. But I remembered that he’d told me twice already that she was not in there and I trusted him.

A few seconds is a long time in a fire, I’m sure the brave men of the Demopolis Fire Department can tell you that. It seems like I remember every bit of what my eyes glanced over as I turned to run. The arch way leading to my room beginning to be touched by flame, India’s door putting off flames so big I could feel the hot air being pushed on my face five or six feet away, the stair rail marking the place I needed to run , the reflection of orange light being thrown off the bathroom mirror , and the escalating heat under my feet. Then I saw the doorway to the back hall that was right then free from all but a faint bit of smoke.

And I remembered the shawl. It had belonged to my great great grandmother. According to family lore she wore it on her wedding day in 1861. It had been a wedding gift from her uncle. (I’ll have to check the year, those records are in a box in my closet…who knows if it’s still there.) I had worn it myself on the day that Arthur and I took our vows in The Church.

So I chose to run out the back. I had bolted not even 10 feet when I got to the open hallway closet where I had purposefully kept the shawl to grab in case of some horrific emergency. By the time I was reaching for the satin pillow case it had always lived in I could not see nor breathe and I was surrounded by thick, hot black smoke. I thought to myself “You are a fool, run.”

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - The Ogden's lost much of the second floor of their home to fire on Monday. This is the room where the fire is believed to have started.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – The Ogden’s lost much of the second floor of their home to fire on Monday. This is the room where the fire is believed to have started.

And blindly I took off through the boys room, down the spiral stairs and felt my way through the rec room calling for Arthur and the children. Somewhere along the way I remember hitting my foot on something but decided that I would think about that later.

By the time I found them in his office the smoke had cleared from one eye and I could see them all enough to count heads. I made him stop telling someone on the phone that our house was on fire to tell me one more time that India was at work and not upstairs.

My hero looked at his idiot wife holding a soot-stained pillow case and I asked him one more time to tell me where India was. “She’s at work, the car is gone, I promise.”

It was all I needed to hear. I’m not ashamed that at that point I went back for another great great grandmother’s butter knives that Arthur had shadowboxed for me that hung on the dining room wall while he herded the children out the door.

And we ran to Miss Vickie and Mr. Robert’s house. We’ve often said that the Taylor’s are the best neighbors we’ve ever had. True to form Vickie and Robert began being Vickie and Robert and they swung into action.

The Demopolis Fire Department’s response was quick, but Vickie had socks and shoes on us all and jackets and blankets wrapped around us before I could even wash the soot off my face. Thank goodness Robert had already started some coffee because Vickie can’t make coffee….don’t tell her I told you that.

I joke frequently about my husband’s stubborn streak. I poke fun and am sometimes irritated about all that administrating he did in academics and athletics over the years that led to him thinking that his natural born delegating and administrative skills makes him think he’s always in charge. The entire family complains about having to be sensitive to his light sleeping. It’s no fun to have to turn your music way down on the other side of the house because Papa turned in early.

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - This is a view from the upstairs hallway, back the the second floor foyer.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – This is a view from the upstairs hallway, back toward the second floor foyer.

The running joke about him is that he can “hear smoke.” Thank God that he can. Thank God for that booming voice. Thank God for that will of iron that sometimes makes him think he can battle a house fire with his bare hands but also lets him slip effortlessly into the man you know you can count on to get your children out of a house fire.

It’s no joke, who he is, with ever fiber of his being saved us. I’ve never been so glad in my life that he was in charge and on watch. It’s not every woman who get’s to be married to her hero. I am a very lucky girl.

I can not even begin to describe the immediate and enormous outpouring of love and aid from the community. I didn’t want to watch my house burn, I had not the stomach. But I’m pretty sure the fire wasn’t all the way out when Kaye Evans appeared and the next thing I knew she was back with clothes.

I tried to alert my parents out of town to what was going on and when I finally got through to Daddy I had to tell him, “I don’t know…I have no answers yet. The house is still smoldering and I need to get off the phone because half of Demopolis has just come through Vickie’s front door and they’re all here to help.”

And since Monday morning we have received such a flood of love that it is overwhelming. I simply cannot name everyone. Our dearest friends have shown not only how much they love us but also how well they know us. Our neighbors across the street and all across town have shown the heart of this community. Our Church has stepped up so that we may lean on them. The school teachers have reached out to let us know our children will be covered when they go back to school.

I know I saw a lot of faces that morning and into the afternoon and every day since. That administrator I am married to has a list and in the near future a far more thorough thanks will come but for now I want to thank: Vickie and Robert Taylor for being who they are in general and the innumerable thoughtful and practical things they did for us and are still doing for us. John Wallace who came instantly with such kindness. The Brookers, and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t think anyone can name all of the Brookers and how awesome they are in one paragraph. Lynda Ray for knowing which of us needs what. Kaye and Arthur Evans for things large and small. Jay and Rosemary Shows for putting a roof over our heads.

Our dear friends Michael and Laura Clements get their own paragraph as thanks and as an explanation for why readers are getting this first person account. Michael left work and was in Vickie’s living room so fast I couldn’t even understand how he got there so quickly. Laura showed up and immediately stepped up to organize and shield me from having too great a load. I was back in my uniform of yoga pants, cami-tank, cardigan and signature hair clippy before noon and she didn’t even have to ask what I needed. Because it’s the South, she also brought me a brand new bag of make up…she probably color matched me better than I could have done myself. She even fussed at me until I went to the doctor and got my foot looked at. (I win the most damaged award as I broke my pinky toe in the escape, Arthur has a few burns on his feet and some singed hair…but he needed a haircut anyway.)

It was Laura who said I should write this. She knows me enough to know that I needed to do the writing. I told her I would do the telling but only if Michael used that camera of his to do the showing.

I’m incapable of being brief. But I usually can tell when I’m about to devolve into rambling. So I’ll end this by saying that 2016 is going to be a very hard year. While we look to rebuild our lives, our home and our collection of things we know it won’t be easy. The one thing we know for sure is that if this had to happen to us there’s no place we’d rather it happen. This city is a wonderment. It really and truly is The City of the People…and what people they are. We are so blessed.

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - This is a view of the upstairs foyer from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden's home on Monday, January 4, 2015.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – This is a view of the upstairs foyer from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden’s home on Monday, Jan. 4, 2015.

Gilfield Baptist Church building destroyed by fire

Dewayne Charleston surveys the damage as Gilfield Baptist Church lies in ruins following a fire Tuesday night that burned into the early hours of Wednesday morning. “It may look bad right now, but after a while, God is going to work it out," Charleston said of the circumstances that have befallen the congregation.

Dewayne Charleston surveys the damage as Gilfield Baptist Church lies in ruins following a fire Tuesday night that burned into the early hours of Wednesday morning. “It may look bad right now, but after a while, God is going to work it out,” Charleston said of the circumstances that have befallen the congregation.

OLD SPRINGHILL — “God is still able,” Dewayne Charleston said calmly as he stood just a few feet from the still smoking rubble of the building that used to house the Gilfield Baptist Church.

The church caught fire Tuesday evening with a call going out to the Old Springhill Volunteer Fire Department about 7:45 p.m.

(Photo taken from Facebook)

(Photo taken from Facebook)

“As far as what started it and how it started, we’re looking into that,” Chris Foster, Old Springhill VFD chief, said. “Being a church, we went ahead and called in the state fire marshall.”

The Old Springhill VFD found assistance in fighting the blaze from Marengo Rescue and the Demopolis Fire Department. Still, crews battled the flames for nearly five hours before squelching the inferno early Wednesday morning.

“With it being brick walls, you couldn’t send anybody in with the possibility of the walls caving in,” Foster explained of the particular difficulty that accompanied fighting the church fire.

“We were supposed to have Bible study here tonight, but God is still able,” Charleston, who has preached for the Gilfield congregation for some 13 months, said. “We’re just going to continue to trust on Him, to trust in Him and knowing that God is going to make a way.”

Gilfield Baptist claims some 70 members. Charleston’s sentiments resonated with other members on the scene Wednesday morning as they expressed their sentiments plainly.

“The building is gone, but the church is still here,” one member said.

“Good membership. We were growing membership. God saw fit for this to happen, but we’re thankful that nobody was hurt,” Charleston offered.

As for what Sunday holds, Charleston is already confident he knows that answer to that question.

“We’re going to have church,” he said. “We’re going to have church somewhere even if we have to do it out here in the parking lot. We’re going to have church because this is just a building. When you have it in your heart, church has got to go on. Services have got to go on. Beyond the circumstances, whatever happens here, God is still good. He gave us life. We’re still here.”

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Morning fire claims house on Russell Drive

A morning fire claimed a house on Russell Drive. Three trucks from the Demopolis Fire Department responded. There were no occupants at the time of the fire.

Fire damages Vine & Olive

Vine and Olive IMG956708

An early morning fire damaged the former Vine & Olive Bed and Breakfast in downtown Demopolis. The blaze started around 3:15am on July 17, 2015. The official cause is unknown, but is suspected to be a cell phone charger or the electrical outlet the charger was plugged into. None of the five residents were injured in the fire. The property is owned by Clayton and Gabrielle McVay.

Vine and Olive IMG956699

(Photos courtesy of Gabrielle McVay)

Second life lost as result of Crossgates fire

A second person has died as the result of the early morning fire at Crossgates Apartments. Demopolis Police Department Chief Tommie Reese confirmed Sunday evening that the adult male resident who sustained serious injuries in the fire has died. The Demopolis Police Department identified the second victim as Jeremie Sewell, 28 years old.

The fire broke out before 12:45 a.m. Sunday and saw two Demopolis Fire Department rescue workers incur injuries with one being transported to Birmingham for smoke inhalation and burns to the facial area.

Sewell was taken to Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital by DPD patrol car. His death follows that of Sabrina Morris, 27 years old, who died in the fire.

Two children were in the apartment at the time of the fire. One was able to exit the apartment on his own while the other was pulled from the dwelling by a bystander.

The state fire marshal’s office is currently investigating the cause of the inferno.

“I am asking everyone to keep the family in their thoughts and prayers,” Reese said.

Apartment fire kills one, leaves one in critical condition; two firemen injured

A fire at Crossgates Apartment Complex early Sunday morning claimed the life of a local woman, sent a man to the hospital in critical condition and left two Demopolis firefighters injured.

“We did have one fatality in the apartment. Two young boys were rescued out of the apartment,” Demopolis Fire Department Chief Tommy Tate confirmed. “We also have one in critical condition, the older male subject that was in the apartment also. Two of our firemen, one was treated and released and the other one had some smoke inhalation. He’s in Birmingham. I think he is going to be OK but he had some burns around his facial area.”

The Demopolis Fire Department received the call at 12:46 a.m. The Demopolis Police Department was already on scene.

“There was a young boy who heard the screams. One of the young boys got out of the apartment and then somebody that was just a bystander was able to run in and rescue the other boy out,” Tate said. “Our two (firefighters) were injured trying to rescue the other two out of that room.”

Demopolis Police Department officers transported the severely injured resident by patrol car to Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

“Along with the fire department, several of our officers went in to try to get the person out of the house too, but the fire was too intense,” Demopolis Police Chief Tommie Reese said.

Tate explained that the firefighter receiving treatment in Birmingham was in the process of trying to rescue on the inhabitants of the apartment when he had his mask knocked off, noting that the fireman suffered smoke inhalation and burns around his face. The other fireman sustained burns through his protective gear.

“We don’t have many house fires but they are some of the highest risk things because they are so unpredictable with what is going to happen,” Tate said. “They did what they had to do. I wish the outcome would have been a little bit better for the adults in that.”

The state fire marshal was called to help with the investigation.

Photo of the Day: October 6, 2014

20141006 POTD Griffith fire baton-1560

The DHS majorettes (Emilee Griffith pictured) made their fire baton twirling debut this past Friday night.

Demopolis Police, Fire Departments host annual Night Out

night out - rossA large crowd of adults and children alike turned out for the Demopolis Police Department’s annual Night Out, a national event designed to foster a closer relationship between public safety officers and citizens. The Demopolis Fire Department also took part in hosting the event at the Demopolis Middle School field. In the photo above, Tristen Fitz-Gerald performs a kick during an exhibition by students of Ross Martial Arts. Below, Skilah McMillian tries her hand at dunking DPD Officer Ronnie Clarke.

night out - dunking booth