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Disaster and Accident

Sleeping family escapes late night fire at Bates Road home

The Calhoun-Liberty Journal of Bristol, Florida

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If she and her husband, Alan, had been sleeping in their own bedroom that night, Crystal Bates said she's not sure her family would have gotten out safely when their house caught fire on Jan. 7.

The pair were scheduled to leave at 4 a.m. the next day on an errand to Tallahassee. Alan's parents were spending the night so they could be there to watch the children the next morning. The couple gave them their bedroom and slept in another room.

"If we'd been in our bedroom, we would have had the fan going and wouldn't have heard anything," Crystal said.

Shortly before 11 p.m., Alan was awakened by a popping noise. "He turned to look and the window was orange," Crystal said, describing the flames that were filling the corner of the house.

He yelled, "Fire! The house is on fire!" and they began waking everyone.

The oldest boy ran outside to safety. Crystal carried her four-year-old and dragged her six-year-son - who was having trouble waking up - out the door.

Alan's mother carried out the two-year-old but before stepping outside, she managed to grab some coats. "She just bearhugged all the jackets off the coat rack by the front door and ran," Crystal said.

Alan was struggling to put out the fire when their power went off. "He could have had it contained but our pump went out," Crystal explained. She said her husband grabbed a blanket and tried to stop the blaze but it was too late.

When they looked in the window, they saw the mattress they had been sleeping on was engulfed in flames.

She said the fire started at the bottom of the wall, went up and spread between the home's original roof and a new roof they had added. Most of the damage was to the living room and the middle bedroom, where they were sleeping.

Firefighters arrived soon afterward and despite the challenges of working in 17 degree weather, they were able to keep the blaze from spreading to the rest of the little red house on Bates Road in Mossy Pond.

"We were lucky to be able to get ahead of the fire," said Andy Waldorff, assistant chief with Carr-Clarksville Volunteer Fire Department, who said the blaze started on the north side of the house near a breaker box, which was near a wood stove. "The fire appeared to have traveled through the air conditioning duct work, which is what helped it spread through the house."

Firefighters were able to save many of the family's possessions, including clothing, guns and a hunting bow as well as family photos.

Volunteers responding to the scene that night experienced unusual problems due to the low temperatures. "We had some cold weather issues with our tanker and our bunker gear started to freeze up," Waldorff said. Carr-Clarksville VFD Chief Darryl O'Bryan said his firefighters' air packs froze.

Instead of walking across the roof to punch holes to let the heat and smoke escape, firefighters had to crawl across the top of the house because it was covered in ice.

The Bates believe the cause of the fire was an electrical short.

Earlier that evening, Crystal said one of the children had plugged in some Christmas lights and she noticed some of the bulbs kept fading in and out. She said she quickly turned the lights off and told the children, "I better unplug that before we have a fire."

The family is staying nearby with Crystal's parents and plan to repair the home. Crystal said they received plenty of clothing donations and don't need any more but would welcome any building materials anyone had to spare, explaining, "There's a lot of work to be done." If you'd like to help the family, they can be reached at 573-4325.

"It's traumatizing to lose your home," Crystal said, but remarkably, they were able to save "everything that was sentimental."

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Original Publication Date: January 15, 2014

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