Thursday, September 8, 2011
By SUE WATSON
The angels in heaven must have been looking over two women in their burning home in Potts Camp last week.
Both were saved by a relative and next-door neighbor who “accidentally” noticed their house afire from a bedroom window.
Lisa Clayton was asleep in a bedroom on the lower level of the house adjacent to their beauty shop. Her mother, Carol Jean Davis, was asleep in the recliner in the front room because she has been having problems with her back.
Next door, the soon-to-be hero, Craig Work, was trying to get to sleep but a nephew was still awake listening to an iPod in a bedroom.
Work could not go to sleep because of the iPod so he went in to tell his nephew to shut it off and go to bed. That is when the boy said he saw an orange glow in the bedroom window next door.
At about the same time, mayor Ricky Lesure was next door on the opposite side of the burning house at the service station. He also saw it. The service station owners had already closed and were on their way home. The fire started about 10:15 p.m. August 30.
Work came over to the service station and said the house was on fire, Lesure said.
The mayor, also a volunteer firefighter, went to the fire station to get a truck and turn out.
Work, in bare feet, first knocked on the door and when Davis, whom he knew slept in a recliner near the door, did not get up, he kicked the door in.
He awoke Davis and she called 911. Then the two of them went down the hallway to wake her daughter.
Clayton, who was asleep in the lower level bedroom, could hear Work and Davis calling for her as they moved toward the bedroom through the heavy smoke, but she was too deeply asleep, due to carbon monoxide, to get up.
She could hear them call but could not move.
“She remembers when they started hollering, but she couldn’t move herself,” said her sister, Kay Garrison.
“Craig and I ran down that hallway and got her,” Davis said.
“Another minute and she could never have woken up. She grabbed her dog and pants and purse, and then I thought of my two cats.”
After they were out safely, Davis tried to go in a side door to get her two cats, but could not. A friend, Roger Elliott, was with her but turned back because it was too dangerous.
Sassy and Sable, the cats, were lost.
Davis said she had chest pains and her daughter was having trouble so they were driven to New Albany where they were hospitalized overnight. Clayton’s carbon monoxide level was 8.9, dangerously high and almost lethal, Davis said.
The rescue was followed by attacks on the fire from the front and side yards, Lesure said. Waterford, Bethlehem and Potts Camp and Holly Springs trucks responded to the fire.
Lesure and Holbrook said Work’s knowledge of the risks of structure fires was the only thing that made it possible for him to go into the lower bedroom and rescue Clayton.
“He was just God sent,” Garrison said. “If he hadn’t been there, my mother and sister would not be here today. It was really bad down there.”
The fire grew more hazardous, spreading through the attic into the entire house. Three vehicles, two outside and one in the garage, caught fire and burned.
Garrison said she had heard about the fire and had arrived. Shortly thereafter the garage exploded with the Lincoln inside and the explosion blew the double garage door off. The Lincoln had a full tank of gas. Davis said she had filled it when she went to the doctor Tuesday.
A truck parked outside the house also had a full tank of gas and Clayton’s car, parked near the truck, also burned.
It took firefighters five hours to get the fire under control, said Holly Springs fire chief Kenny Holbrook. It was a dangerous fire that placed three firefighters’ lives on the line. Only one was taken to the hospital and later released with minor burns and a concussion.
Holbrook said Work’s invaluable knowledge as a volunteer firefighter aided him in carrying out the rescue.
“He took a great personal risk going in there,” Holbrook said. “It’s a pretty big decision to make, going in without equipment.”
After everyone was safe, firefighters attempted to bring the inferno down but experienced a dangerous overdraft and flashover. The overdraft brought in fresh air to the oxygen-starved environment inside the house. Then the explosive flashover occurred, sending a fireball over three firefighters entering the structure from the back, he said.
“The flashover engulfed them as they were trying to enter to attack the fire,” Holbrook said. “It was a pretty tough fire to put out.
“Had he (Work) not acted as he did, a different outcome was possible. Definitely, he saved her life. Minutes, seconds, in a situation like that make a difference in severe injury and life or death.”
Work’s home was about to become involved and firefighters cooled the structure before going to work on the Davis’ house, he said.
A flashover and a backdraft are the two worst conditions a firefighter faces, he said. They are more frequently found in single-family homes, he said. In a flashover, the smoke and gases get hot and ignite in a flash fire that touches everything in the room, he said. The backdraft took place in the front of the house and the front door fell in as a result. The flashover took place about two minutes later at the rear of the house.
“Usually, you don’t run into both at the same fire,” Holbrook said.
The house was fairly gutted by the fire, the beauty shop was destroyed as well as the garage.
Lesure said the fire took off when Work went to the bedroom in the back of the house.
“The whole back side of the house was on fire,” he said. “To me, I consider him (Work) a special person; I’m going to talk him into being back out there at our next meeting. It would be a plus to us to have him back in there.”
During the first minutes of the fire, a train was across the tracks, blocking the way of firefighters to the station in town, Lesure said. But soon it moved off and Bethlehem’s truck was able to come to the fire over the tracks as well as Waterford’s truck.
“It was hard to attack from the front and so we had trucks on each side, too. Water was going everywhere,” Lesure said.
He praised firefighters and gave extra attention to the volunteer firefighters whom the rural communities count on to be there.
“What firefighters do, that’s what makes a good community,” he said. “And Craig Work still got on that line (after rescuing the two women). He didn’t walk away. A lot of people pitched in to help. It was a fire department and community effort.”
Lesure said the fire could have taken out Work’s house and the service station on the other side of the Davis house, had firefighters not turned out and worked so hard.
“That’s total effort,” he said. “My hat’s off to the guys who helped, including light/gas and water employees. It’s a blessing no one got hurt or seriously injured.”
Davis was glad to be alive and very grateful to Work for taking action.
“I watched everything I have worked for all my life go up in smoke,” Davis said.
She did find her purse with driver’s license and credit card and some burnt money later in the week.
She said no one had seen any smoke or fire by bedtime when she lay down in her recliner to sleep.
“We had smelled something,” Davis said. “I thought somebody was burning some trash.”
Work takes no credit for what he did and said he would not hesitate to do it again.
“The only thing I could think about was getting them out of bed and out of the house,” he said.
He did not feel like a hero going in.
“I got scared when I was inside the house,” he said. “It was nothing but the grace of God that I could see through the smoke just as plain as day.”
Work said he does not know how he was able to see through the smoke, but he could. After the fire, he had no problems and had no injuries, he said.
Davis and Clayton are staying with relatives while they are out of a home. Davis said she definitely plans to rebuild.
“And I am going to have a fire and smoke alarm in every room,” she said.
The hometown folk have been wonderful in reaching out to help, as they usually do, Davis said.
“Everybody was so wonderful,” she said. “You don’t know how many friends you have until something happens like this. Everybody is so nice. We all stick together in Potts Camp.”
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