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House fire claims life of McDuffie County man

Officials are urging caution after a series of brush and debris fires - including one that may have left a McDuffie County man dead - broke out in the area Monday and Tuesday.


Firefighters from Columbia and McDuffie counties responded to Monday's fatal blaze.
Photo by Jim Blaylock/Morris News Service
State fire officials suspect burning debris might have caused the fire at 315 County Line Road that killed Douglas M. Johnson, 63, Monday afternoon.

McDuffie and Columbia County firefighters responded to the home on the Columbia-McDuffie county line just after 3 p.m. Monday finding Mr. Johnson on the ground just outside the back of the home, which was fully engulfed in flames and smoke.

Neighbors reported Mr. Johnson burning debris earlier in the day, and it appears, from what firefighters found on the scene, he was likely burning more than one pile at the same time, McDuffie County Fire Service Assistant Chief Stephen Sewell said. No other possible cause of the fire has been determined, Asst. Chief Sewell said.

The body was sent to the state crime lab for an autopsy Tuesday, but the final autopsy report, including the exact cause of death, had not been made available Tuesday afternoon, said Rhusha Mack, McDuffie County coroner.

The McDuffie County Sheriff's Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation also were called in to investigate the fire. The GBI is routinely called in to assist in the investigation of fire-related deaths, Mr. Mack said.

Gerald Baker, of Blythe, a former firefighter, said he was driving by and saw the fire. He said he attempted to enter the home to save the homeowner but was unable to get in. Mr. Baker did rescue Mr. Johnson's dog - a Chinese pug named Troubles - which was unconscious and tied on the front porch.

Meanwhile, Thomson and McDuffie fire crews were kept busy Tuesday with several wind-whipped brush fires throughout the county.

Assistant Chief Sewell said when burning debris, it is important to get a burn permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission. He also said those burning should use extreme caution.

"The first thing is, is when the wind is up, please don't burn to start with," he said. "The second thing is be very attentive to it. Don't leave the fires burning and go inside the house or go down the road; stay right there with it. The next thing is make sure you've got a good break around it, a good area around it where it won't spread and get away from you."

Web posted on Thursday, March 9, 2006

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