ELVFD PCVFD LCSO at Athens house fire

East Limestone Volunteer Fire Department, Piney Chapel VFD and the Limestone County Sheriff's Office respond to a reported house fire Tuesday near the intersection of Alabama 251 and Oakdale Road. Piney Chapel VFD Chief Lance Pitts said the time between the fire and the homeowner's return, plus her decision to leave bedroom doors closed, kept fire damage to a minimum.

An overnight trip and closed bedroom doors prevented one Athens home from becoming a total loss after a fire broke out in the kitchen, an official said.

Piney Chapel Volunteer Fire Department Chief Lance Pitts said the homeowner in the 16000 block of Alabama 251 called 911 after coming home from a trip Tuesday to find her kitchen and another room in the house heavily damaged by fire. Pitts said it appeared the fire started at the stove and burned hot enough to run out of oxygen and put itself out before the woman got home.

It was a scene Pitts had only seen once in 20 years of firefighting.

"The house was built airtight, so much so that the fire extinguished itself when it ran out of air to breathe," Pitts said. "... The fire got so hot, it burned up the oxygen in the room."

It also broke every light fixture in the house. He said in most houses, a fire that hot and burning that quickly would have resulted in a neighbor calling to report the home fully engulfed in flames in the middle of the night.

Instead, neighbors said they never saw, heard or smelled a thing, despite sitting on a porch with a clear view of the home until almost midnight that night.

Pitts said the woman not coming home during the fire or immediately after it also prevented further damage. When a fire goes out due to lack of oxygen, other combustible gases and smoke can remain in the air at a hotter temperature.

Sudden reintroduction of oxygen — by opening a door or window, for example — can restart the fire just as suddenly.

"You get an explosion," Pitts said. "But nobody came home."

The woman arrived after the fire was out and the room had cooled, he said. This saved her from being injured or even killed by a backdraft.

Her decision to close bedroom doors saved many of her belongings.

"The bedrooms that were open had some heat and smoke damage, but the bedrooms she had closed had some smoke inside but not like anything (in the kitchen)," Pitts said. "She could take clothes and run them through the washer and be fine."

Pitts encourages everyone to close their bedroom doors when going to bed and especially when leaving the home.

"If a fire breaks out, it gives you extra time to evacuate or shelter in place or if you have to self-extricate through a bedroom window," Pitts said. "... It limits the fire capabilities because that door sets up like a barrier for the heat and smoke."

The cause of Tuesday's fire is unknown. Pitts said the woman told first responders she had left a pan she used to make French fries a few days prior sitting on the stove and had used the oven for corn dogs Monday but turned the oven off before leaving.

East Limestone VFD and Limestone County Sheriff's Office also responded to the scene.