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Fatal fire claims two

Two people died in a fire in Eastern McDuffie County on Wednesday, March 24.


A firefighter battles a burning golf car, school bus and other vehicles last week.
Jason B. Smith
Wheelchair-bound Tommy Williamson, 26, and his caretaker Sheryl Ann Swain, 34, were unable to exit the mobile home at 1616 Jean Road after a fire that started in the surrounding salvage yard consumed the residence, according to McDuffie County Fire Chief Bruce Tanner.

Fire crews were called to the scene about 2:30 p.m., and witnesses reported an explosion near the mobile home before emergency officials could arrive. Rescue workers could not get close to the mobile home because the fire had engulfed the junkyard and officials worried that nearby acetylene tanks, which are commonly used for welding, would explode.

Several public safety offices have joined the investigation into the fire. According to Chief Tanner, the Georgia Fire Marshall's office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the McDuffie County Sheriff's office are assisting the McDuffie County Fire Department in investigating the cause of the blaze.

"We've got investigators on the scene right now trying to determine where the fire started and the cause of the fire, well actually two fires out there," Chief Tanner said the day after the fatal fire.

A second fire was sparked almost simultaneously about a half-mile away in a mobile home with a connected travel camper located at 1495 Smith Crawford Road. No one was inside at the time of the fire.


A firefighter sprays foam on a smoldering car in the scorched salvage yard.
Jason B. Smith
It took about 10 to 15 minutes to get the second fire under control, said David Durrence, Division 3 Chief for North Columbia.

The owners of the mobile home said they left to walk around the corner to see the Jean Road fire. Less than 10 minutes later, they received a phone call from a neighbor letting them know their property was also on fire.

Evans resident Robert Hutchinson said he and his wife were at the home, cleaning it out after its tenants were evicted Tuesday. Mr. Hutchinson, who had another buyer lined up for the property, said he parked his camper in front of the home for the day as they cleaned.

The investigations into the fires are ongoing, and investigators have not yet disclosed a cause. They initially thought that burning debris from the salvage yard fire caused the second blaze. But according to Chief Tanner, investigators now think the two fires are unrelated.

Chief Tanner also said the investigation is not currently focused on the possibility of arson.

"At this point we're not thinking in those terms. We're just thinking of trying to determine the origin and the cause," he said.

Chief Tanner said about 40 firefighters from more than seven fire departments battled the blaze, including the McDuffie County Fire Department, Martinez Fire Department, North Columbia Fire Department and volunteer departments from Leah, Appling and Winfield.

Georgia Forestry crews also stayed on the scene, cutting fire breaks and battling flare ups, until 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Web posted on Thursday, April 1, 2004

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Temperature:53° F
Wind:from the W at 5 MPH
Visibility:10 miles
Dew Point:53° F
Updated: 04-Nov-2010 10:01

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