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Rash of house fires hits Macon County

During the month of September, Macon County experienced one of its most notable spates of structure fires.

During a three-week period starting Sept. 7, four large structures succumbed to fire in the county — including the house of Franklin Fire Chief Warren Cabe.

Fire also struck a townhouse apartment complex that put several neighbors and a sleeping occupant in danger; a mobile home where a deceased man had been discovered the day before; and a large shed full of vehicles and equipment that burned down just after midnight.

Todd Seagle, 911 Communications Supervisor for Macon County, said it has been one of the most unusual months he’s seen since he began working with the emergency call center in 1997. When compared to the large number of fires this September, last September pales in comparison: the only calls were two small grease fires and an electrical fire.

“I don’t ever remember a month when we’ve had four true structure fires in a three- week period,” Seagle said.

One cause for concern among firefighters is that the typical house fire season — namely the colder months when people move indoors and began using their fireplaces and heaters — hasn’t even begun yet.

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The following are the individual reports on the September fires given by Farrell Jamison, a fire investigator for the Macon County Fire Marshall’s Office.


Even the fire chief

Time and Date: 1 p.m., Sept. 7

Location: Burningtown

It was the father of Franklin Fire Chief Warren Cabe who first called responders after he saw from a nearby barn that the two-story, log-cabin style house of his son was emitting smoke. Cabe and his wife had left the residence unattended while preparing for a camping trip with their child.

When firefighters arrived they were able to easily extinguish the fire but only after the flames and heat had destroyed the inside. The house may be a total loss because of the extensive damage to the log walls. The fire is believed to have originated on a kitchen counter.

Although the exact cause of the fire is still undetermined, family members said they had placed a candle on that countertop earlier that day while rounding up camping gear, some of which they had piled up on the counter. Though they thought they had extinguished it, a candleholder can cause objects around it to ignite if it becomes too hot.

Cabe had the log house built in 2007 and learned from the experience that residents should be sure of what is included in their fire insurance plan and keep a proper list of their possessions beforehand to make a claim after a fire hits. After everything burns, it can be hard to prove what was in the house. 

After seeing his log cabin burn, Cabe realized no one is immune from a fire disaster.

“Honestly, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” Cabe said “So don’t think it can’t happen to you.”


French fry fire

Time and Date: 10:58 a.m., Sept. 17

Location: Clark’s Chapel

It was the downstairs neighbor who noticed something was peculiar when a fire alarm from the unit above kept starting up and then shutting off. The woman left her apartment to investigate and found the young man who lived above her sitting on the front porch and smoke coming from his apartment. She quickly evacuated the rest of the neighbors who lived in the connected units and called 911.

Firefighters were able to put out the flames before they spread to adjacent units, but the unit below, where the woman lived, was flooded from the water used to extinguish the fire above. Flames destroyed the apartment interior and smoke damage and roof and roof supports suffered damage.

The cause of the fire was determined to be an electric stove left on with a pot of frying oil placed on top of it. The aluminum pot had melted into the stove and the oil caught on fire, then ignited the cabinets above it. Aluminum melts at about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The man who lived at the residence with his girlfriend had been cooking French fries with that oil. He was asleep when the fire started but woke up because of the smoke. The girlfriend was at work.


A death and a fire

Time and Date: around dawn, Sept. 18

Location: west of Franklin

Neighbors awoke early in the morning to the sound of oxygen canisters exploding. It wasn’t long before they realized the sound was coming from a burning singlewide trailer, and the fire was causing the canisters to blow up. By the time firefighters arrived, flames had burst through the roof and the walls of the trailer. As for the cause of the fire, no clues were identified.

A man had passed away at that same residence the day prior. They say he had a chronic ailment, the reason there were oxygen canisters in the house. Officials say they were called out to perform a welfare check on the residence and had found the dead man. The evening of Sept. 17, family members of the dead man were left at the residence to close up. That next day at dawn the mobile home was in flames. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.


Hot enough to melt a Ford

Time and Date: 12:24 a.m., Sept. 25

Location: Cullasaja

A metal shed containing several vehicles and shop equipment burned, destroying a Jeep Wrangler, a 1997 Ford truck, a Kubota utility vehicle, a lawn mower, a log-splitter and a collection of metalworking and other shop equipment.

The fire caused all the tires of the vehicles to burst and their gas tanks to expel fumes, which fueled the flames like a torch. The fire caused damage to the wooden supports and roof of the partially enclosed structure. 

The cause of the fire is not yet determined. No evidence of electrical shortages were found, but the fire is believed to have started in the cab of the Ford truck because that’s where the most damage was found, and the windows of the truck had melted like taffy and fallen into the cab. Usually when a fire burns around the outside of a vehicle, the windows burst and blow out.

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