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Heaters linked to fires
Wood stove, space heater, furnace are called likely causes

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Heating equipment was linked to three fires that displaced six people Monday in Henry County, according to Henry County Assistant Fire Marshal Kiah Cooper, who urged area residents to be cautious when heating their homes this winter.

More investigation is required to be certain of the fires’ causes, Cooper said, but heating equipment appears the likely cause in all three.

The home of Jeff Wohlford, Lisa Wohlford, Steve Zimmerman and Peggy Zimmerman in the 2000 block of Wingfield Orchard Road, Fieldale, was destroyed by a fire that is believed to have started near the home’s wood stove, Cooper said. It was reported around 5:30 p.m.

The occupants of the home escaped safely, although the home was a total loss. In addition, a truck and two cars near the home were destroyed in the blaze, and several cats may have been trapped inside.

Beverly Gaydas, disaster services manager for the American Red Cross in Martinsville, said the Red Cross provided them with clothing, groceries and three nights at the Dutch Inn, along with information on resources to help him proceed.

“The Red Cross can’t do it all,” Gaydas said, “so we like to give the clients as many resources as possible.”

Emergency personnel left the scene around 10 p.m. Monday, Cooper said.

With temperatures Monday night dropping as low as 3 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, fighting that blaze was not easy, Cooper said.

“It’s a totally different world,” he said. “It (extreme cold) affects this area more, because we’re not used it. Our gear was sufficient enough to keep us warm, but once it gets saturated, it’s a different story.”

Cooper said the harsh temperatures caused some difficulties for the firefighters. One company, he said, had a difficult time opening a fire hydrant to fill a fire truck with water because the hydrant valve was frozen shut.

Additionally, he said, fire trucks are fitted with overflow valves to indicate when the water tanks are full. When water poured from the valves Monday night, it froze almost instantly.

“Everything was freezing,” Cooper said, adding that even the roof of the smoldering home was covered in ice. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) dumped sand around the scene to help offer traction to the firefighters, Cooper added.

Earlier Monday, a fire was called in shortly after 5 a.m. at the double-wide home of Juanita McCorkle in the 7000 block of Axton Road, Axton, Cooper said.

That fire started inside the home’s central air/heating unit in the laundry room and spread into a crawl-space beneath the home. It was unclear Tuesday what ignited the fire, Cooper said.

Cooper said McCorkle likely was saved by her smoke detector, which began ringing shortly after the fire started. She was able to escape the home without injury.

The majority of the damage, he said, was a combination of smoke damage and electrical damage to the wiring under the house.

McCorkle is staying with a family member who lives nearby, Cooper said.

About five hours later around 10 a.m., a fire occurred at the single-wide home of Anthony Perkins in the 6000 block of Morgan Ford Road, Ridgeway, Cooper said.

Perkins was not at home when the fire started, Cooper said, and “by the time the fire was discovered, it was already in some pretty hot stages … there was no saving anything.”

Perkins recalled leaving an oscillating electric heater on in the bathroom of his home, Cooper said. Based on the amount of damage in that area, Cooper said, it is likely that the bathroom was the fire’s point of origin, although more investigation is required.

Perkins’ home was destroyed in the blaze, and it is believed that Perkins’ dog may have been trapped inside, Cooper said.

Gaydas said the organization provided Perkins with the same services it provided to the Wohlfords and Zimmermans.

Cooper urged area residents to be cautious when trying to keep warm this winter. When loading a wood stove, he said, avoid the temptation to load it with more wood than usual, because the stove may become dangerously hot and ignite items nearby.

Also, he said, hot gases escaping from cracks in the stove flue can cause fires.

Cooper also advised caution when using space heaters, even the supposedly safer oil-filled models. Never leave heaters unattended, avoid using extension cords to power the heaters and keep potentially flammable items at least 3 feet from heaters, he said.

Cooper also reminded residents to check batteries in smoke detectors and make sure that fire extinguishers are fully charged.

Those interested in offering help to any of the families displaced by the fires may call the American Red Cross office in Martinsville at 632-5127.


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