New Information On Deadly Smith County House Fire - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

9/7/07-Smith County

New Information On Deadly Smith County House Fire

It's been a month now since the Noonday Volunteer Fire Department lost two of its own Captain Kevin Williams and Austin Cheek.  During that month, Smith County Fire Marshal Jim Seaton has looked at pictures and listened to radio traffic from the house fire in Flint, a blaze Seaton said he's never seen before.

"It's real hard to know when something like that is going to happen," said Seaton.  "It's the first time it's happened in this county, and I hope it never happens again." 

Seaton is talking about a 1200 degree flash over, what he believes, may have killed firefighters Williams and Cheek.

"That's when the smoke and the by-products from the smoke reach a certain temperature and a spark ignites and then you have a certain flash of fire," said Seaton. 

Williams and Cheek, Seaton said, were the third team to go inside the home, and did so after hearing the team before them say they believed the fire was out.  Seaton also said firefighters saw little smoke in the back of the house because of the home's construction.

"We've been told the homeowner ... it's not his fault; it happens everywhere ... but he had cut the eaves off his house and built a new house and new addition," Seaton said.

Seaton also said a second roof kept firefighters from adequately venting the home, which fed the fire.  It's a structural challenge that has prompted Noonday Volunteer Fire Chief Gary Aarant and his department to make some changes.

"With a tragedy like this the best thing to do normally is to learn from it," said Aarant.  "Now, we are going to get the proper ventilation before we ever let them go in the house, and then we are going to time them at 10 minutes to come on out." 

What they won't change, Aarant said, is fighting fires from within the house, something that, while dangerous, is what firefighters are trained to do.  

Seaton said he is almost finished putting together his findings and plans to meet with area fire chiefs to go over them, but the investigation is far from over.  Three other agencies are also investigating the strange fire.  The ATF, Texas State Fire Marshal's Office and The National Institute For Occupational Safety and Health.  It will be six months to a year before those reports are complete.

Molly Reuter, Reporting.


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