Family flees burning home; space heater blamed for fire
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Landlord Donald Tiegiser, far left, and resident Richie Dudley meet Tuesday morning and take a look at what is left of the house which caught fire just after midnight on Russell Drive.
Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

Nov. 29, 2005 -- A Sulphur Springs family fled  their burning home shortly after midnight Monday, but were fortunate to escape without serious injury, according to fire reports. A space heater is thought to have started the early morning blaze.

Richie Dudley told firemen that he was awakened in the middle of the night by the smell of smoke. After getting up, he noticed the house to be filled with heavy smoke. He roused his wife, Melissa, and three children to get them out of the structure. They eventually were able to exit using a window which had held an air conditioning unit, according to Sulphur Springs Assistant Fire Marshal Eric Hill.

Sulphur Springs firefighters were dispatched to 121 Russell Drive at 12:40 a.m. Tuesday. The firemen reported flames blowing out of the dining-living room area through the house to the kitchen on the back side. A few off-duty members of SSFD were called in, and Hopkins County Emergency Medical Services personnel responded, as well.

"They were able to contain the fire to the living room and kitchen areas, and made a quick stop on the fire," Hill said. "The living, dining and kitchen areas are a total loss, and the rest of the house was heavily smoke-stained. About 90 percent of the house was destroyed, so it's probably going to be a total loss."

Hill said that after surveying the charred remains of the rent house and speaking with firemen and the residents, it was determined the family had been using space heaters to help warm the house and one was thought to have either fallen over or malfunctioned. Thus, the fire is being ruled "accidental with the possible ignition from an electric space heater."

The assistant fire marshal cautions others utilizing space heaters to warm their homes to be careful where they are placed. Hill reminds that heaters should not be placed near combustibles, and should be left only on stable surfaces where they are less likely to tip over. If possible, do not place them on carpets, especially old or aging carpet as they can present ready fire hazards. Place heaters with a four-foot radius between them and other objects, especially in children's rooms. 

"Don't place them on the floor if it can be helped, especially not on old carpet. Do not place heaters on carpet if you can help it. Use bricks to elevate them and get them off the floor if you can so they are not as likely to tip over," Hill advises. 

Also, as the frequency of heaters used for warming homes and stoves for baking increases, so does the importance of smoke detectors. He advises all smoke detectors be checked and batteries replaced regularly as a precaution. Also, Hill recommends having smoke detectors in more than one room of the house as sounds such as the alarm are often difficult to hear if the room it is in is shut off from the rest of the house.

"We like to see use of  more than one smoke detector. In cooler conditions, people often close their doors. If the detector is shut out from other rooms, it may take a while for smoke to filter through to set it off. By that time, it may be too late. Plus, with the doors shut, you might not hear the detector if it does go off. That's why detectors in more than one room are important," Hill said.

The Russell Drive residence did have a smoke detector, but it was useless as the battery had not been replaced in a while, the assistant fire marshal said. The home's smoke detector was also so close to the source of the fire that it was melted, according to Hill.

Most of the family's possessions were destroyed in the fire, and they did not have renter's insurance. The Dudleys were able to stay with family for the remainder of the night. No serious injuries were reported to fire officials as resulting from the early morning blaze, although EMS did check two family members for smoke inhalation.

Hopkins County Salvation Army is accepting donations of money and clothing for Richie and Melissa Dudley and their 3-year-old daughter Skylar, 6-year-old son Micah and 7-year-old son Daniel, at HCSA headquarters inside The Bait Shop, 1702 South Broadway St. or at KSST studios on Shannon Road. Clothing sizes needed include: girls size 3T, boys size 7-8 pants and shirts, women's size medium shirts and 11 pants, and men's size 34x32 pants and large shirts. For more information on assisting the family, call HCSA Chairman Jo Marie Neal at 903-885-9858.

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