By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetJune 1, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- For the McAllisters, old family photos were at the forefront of their thoughts. Irreplaceable mementos they thought would go up in smoke following a home fire on Fort Benning that ignited a neighbor’s apartment two weeks ago.
The retired couple, who live in a brick, single-story town home, share connecting attic space with three apartments.
Thanks to the sharp eye of a military policeman, the couple inside the burning home at Apt. C, 26 Arrowhead Road, as well as the McAllisters and other residents of the surrounding apartments, made it out safely. But thanks to the quick response and expertise of firefighters postwide, the neighboring apartments were saved.
“Ten years ago, all four homes might’ve burned to the ground,” said Rick Pagels, who was one of two district chiefs to respond to the scene that night.
Pagels received the call from Spc. Jerry Torres, who spotted the fire while responding to a noise complaint at a separate location just after 1 a.m. May 22.
Engine Company 7, from Fire Station 2 on Custer Road, was the first to arrive at the home. It was quickly followed by additional support from fire stations on Main Post, Harmony Church and Lawson Army Airfield.
Depending on the type of fire, a home can burn to the ground in as little as 60 seconds, Pagels said.
The firefighters were able to contain the blaze in less than 20 minutes despite being hampered by smoldering debris that continued to flare up inside the home.
The McAllister family is grateful. In the hectic moments after being alerted about the fire, James and Carol focused on getting their two dogs to safety and what little important papers they could carry. They watched from across the street as firefighters contained the blaze.
“The chief officer said, ‘Contain it to one (home) as much as you can’ and that’s what they did,” Carol said. “They worked hard, made everybody get back on the other side of the street.”
Several hours later, carbon monoxide levels had returned to normal and the couple was allowed back inside their home. Their things remained exactly as they’d left them. The only evidence of fire is on the backside of the building and never touched their home.
“I thank them for saving what little we had and for staying on top of the fire,” she said. “Otherwise, the whole back row would’ve burned and that’s where we sleep. I’m still a little stressed, but I’m proud I still have my husband, who’s terribly sick at this point, and I’ve got the photos.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation.