The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


December 14, 2011

Updated: Days-old burn pile rekindled to destroy home

WEST LIMESTONE — John and Joyce Beatty were sifting through the ashes Wednesday after a fire — sparked by a days-old burn pile — destroyed their home Tuesday in western Limestone County.

“I’m all right,” John said Tuesday afternoon as he watched flames claim the last section of the couple’s tranquil two-story house, which was nestled in a wooded area off Cairo Hollow Road. The couple lost every thing they had gathered over the past 27 years, including at least one beloved pet, a dog named Hooch.

“It is what you can’t replace that you miss,” John said, noting the blaze claimed Hooch as well as the couple’s family antiques and some paintings done by a renowned wildlife artist now deceased.

Although the home was insured, John was unsure if he would rebuild. The couple will be staying with relatives while they figure out how to start over just 12 days before Christmas.

Firefighters were called to home at 20155 Cairo Hollow Road about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday by a report that flames were already sprouting from the dwelling.

Pleasant Grove Volunteer Fire Department arrived first, followed by Owens, Clements and West Limestone.

Pleasant Grove Fire Chief Keith Brackeen said the fire’s head start and the home’s materials prevented firefighters from saving the house.

“I got there first, and the house was already fully involved,” Brackeen said. “It was an older house with dried pine wood and western cedar, and when it gets going so fast, you can’t hardly put it out.”

Brackeen said the homeowner had burned trash on the property a few days before. The burn pile was a safe distance from the home and located in an area free of other debris or trees. But, at some point, while the couple was in Huntsville, the pile rekindled, scorched a wide radius of grass and spread to a shed that ignited the house.

Brackeen said he has seen fires that appeared to be out rekindle days or even a week later.

Despite a valiant effort by dozens of firefighters at the scene, the fire consumed the home from the south to north over more than a three-hour period. Although some witnesses at the scene thought firefighters had run out of water at one point, another firefighter from Pleasant Grove disputed that, saying there were eventually seven trucks on the scene and a pond next to the house to refill tanks, if needed.

As the roof on the south end of the house collapsed, the fire turned its wrath on the home’s midsection and roof. At one point, orange fire was simultaneously shooting from the center of the roof, from the front windows, from a second-floor balcony and from both the south and north ends of the home. Thick, brown smoke curled up and over the roof and into the West Limestone sky like a snarling apparition.

As flames neared a flagpole at the front of the home bearing the stars and stripes, Clements Assistant Fire Chief Tim Grubbs stepped in and lowered the flag to save it.

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