Mechelle O’Neal and Dan Phipps are counting their blessings after a weekend blaze destroyed their Meadows of Dan home.
“I’m just so grateful to the volunteer fire departments that showed up and the community outpouring of support,” O’Neal said Monday, a day after a fire gutted the home.
Although the two lost many of their possessions, “possessions can be replaced. Lives cannot. It was devastating, but we will be OK,” O’Neal said, adding there were no injuries.
“I am especially grateful none of the firefighters were injured,” said O’Neal, who has lived in the home for 38 years. She said she and Phipps are staying with family now, but plan to rebuild.
The incident started to unfold around midday Saturday when O’Neal said a fire was built in the fireplace of the home at 460 Clint Lane. Shortly after, O’Neal said she noticed smoke in the basement when she went downstairs to do laundry.
She said she could tell the smoke was coming from the fireplace area, and decided to go and check the attic area.
“On the third level, there was smoke in the rooms, and I could hear it crackling,” O’Neal said of the blaze “that spread rapidly along the roofline when it got in the attic area.”
Firefighters got the initial call at 1:55 p.m. Saturday, according to Ronald Terry, chief of the Meadows of Dan Volunteer Fire Department.
Terry said crews from his department along with those from Ararat, Stuart, Laurel Fork and CCDF worked to knock down the blaze.
“We were there until about 6 p.m. Saturday. We had everything looking pretty good, had it all knocked down,” Terry said, but as fire crews left, “we knew we may get a flare up” due to the materials used to build the structure.
“The structure was a cabin,” built partially of “big logs and timbers,” Terry said. “There was heat in a lot of spaces we couldn’t get access to very well,” he said.
It came as little surprise when fire crews were called back to the scene Sunday, around 12:50 a.m., Terry said. “We were there till about 5:30 Sunday morning, just containing the area around it. The winds were up so much, wanted to protect” adjacent areas and ensure the structure blaze did not become a brush fire, Terry said.
With the heat in the logs and the high wind speeds, Terry estimated the fire may have rekindled around 10 p.m. Saturday. By the time firefighters left the scene Sunday, “the structure was totally destroyed.”
O’Neal and other family members were able to gain entry to the home twice – once as firefighters were mopping up on Saturday and again around 8 p.m., Terry said, adding the family worked “to get anything they could salvage” from the fire ravaged home.
In addition to windy conditions, fire crews also had to contend with low temperatures, according to Terry.
“It was 19 degrees when we were there Saturday afternoon,” he said. “The second go-round, it was 9 degrees, with a 10 below wind chill. It a lot tougher” to fight fires in those conditions, he said, and explained.
The biggest factor is when you’re trying to flow water, you have to make sure to keep it moving, so it so doesn’t freeze,” Terry said, adding that was not a problem when fire crews initially responded to the scene.
“We weren’t using a whole lot of water” when they returned a second time, Terry said and explained crews used only enough water to dampen adjacent areas to protect them and contain the blaze.
In those cases, “you run the risk of pumps and lines freezing,” Terry said. Additionally, water hitting the ground freezes, and “that makes scene dangerous because you may fall everywhere you step. It’s just an extra thing” to take into account, he said.