LELAND, NC (WECT) - Neighbors say a Leland woman has plans to rebuild, after a fire ripped through her home in Waterford Tuesday. Investigators believe lightning started the fire, and say it could have been burning for some time before anyone saw flames and called 911.
Because the Leland Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department is currently on probation with the state for failing to have enough staff available to respond to a handful of fires last year, some have wondered if those same staffing problems could have contributed to the level of destruction at the home on Nightingale Court.
That does not appear to be the case.
"The fire department did a good job," neighbor Barbara Fogth said, explaining how they sprayed water on her roof to keep the flames from spreading. Her home sustained minor heat damage from the flames that burned her next-door neighbor's house down to the studs.
Chief John Grimes was one of the first firefighters on scene after the call came in about the house fire Tuesday around 4:45 pm. At that time, his crews were responding to another fire alarm at Brunswick Cove Living Center, a nursing home on River Road, approximately six miles away.
"It got a very, very good head start, because the flames were actually outside of the house, they were actually visible from the exterior of the house at the time the caller called," Grimes explained of how far the fire had already progressed before they were contacted for help. He said 40-50 mile per hour winds that were part of the thunderstorm fueled the fire.
Grimes said it took eight minutes from the time the call came in, to the time fire trucks arrived with nine firefighters on hand to fight the fire at Nightingale Court. While some residents feel eight minutes is too long to wait, it's a pretty typical response time in Leland due to the distance crews have to travel from the station.
Because the fire was so far advanced before anyone called for help, it's doubtful a quicker response time would have allowed firefighters to save the house in this case.
"The smoke was basically getting covered up, and included in with the rain, and so they didn't realize that there was smoke and there was a house fire, until we got the first initial 911 call, and by the point, the caller when she called in said there was a large amount of flames showing," Grimes explained.
The homeowner was at work when the fire broke out. Her two dogs were lost in the blaze.
"I screamed, 'The dogs!' Because I heard them barking, but only once," neighbor Fogth said of realizing the dogs were inside after it was too late to rescue them.
Grimes said the LVFRD got 12 calls for service within 40 minutes during the severe storm that swept through Brunswick County Tuesday afternoon, leaving their current resources extremely stretched. The emergency calls included 5 structure fire alarms which turned out to be false alarms, as well as calls for help with downed trees, power lines, and a car crash.
In all, 27 Leland Firefighters arrived to fight the fire on Nightingale Court. Additionally, crews from Winnabow, Boiling Spring Lakes, Navassa and New Hanover County responded to provide mutual aid.