New year off to a fiery start

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The new year got off to a fiery start for local volunteer fire departments with a succession of back-to-back fires Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. Freezing temperatures hampered firefighting efforts and icy conditions led to the injury of two members of Watauga Volunteer Fire Department, according to Fire Chief Dale Smalling.
   "One pulled the ligaments out of his ankle and another one fell on the icy ground and chipped his kneecap. Everything that went out as water came back as ice," Smalling said.
   Tuesday evening, Watauga first responded to a five-acre brush fire on Cripple Creek. "We were on that one when we got the call for what was supposedly a chimney fire on Highway 400, which turned out to be a bad structure fire" at the home of Robin and Danny Clark, Smalling said.
   "The people were in the house," unaware that it was burning. "I was told that Lon Davis (owner of The Barn Shoppe) ran across the street and told them that they had a fire. The house was badly damaged. I thought we were going to totally lose it, but we managed to stop it," Smalling said.
   Watauga cleared the Clark fire at 2 a.m. "I got a couple hours' sleep and then got called out about 4 a.m. to a house fire on Lewis Blevins Road that belonged to Dave Renfro. While we were on the Renfro fire, we got a call on a rekindle on the Highway 400 fire," Smalling said. He finally managed to get to bed around 11 a.m. "We were out all night," he said.
   Smalling said Watauga was already on the scene at the Highway 400 fire when he realized it was not a chimney fire, but a major structure fire.
   "I had to get it repaged through Com Center to get mutual aid en route," he said. Central and Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Departments responded and helped extinguish the blaze.
   "The water would freeze so bad that when we'd extend the ladder we'd have to spray water on it to get it loose to move it. It got rough. We thought we were going to lose it, but we managed to save a whole lot of it," he said.
   The structure on Lewis Blevins Road "was fully engulfed before we got the call," Smalling said. "It was a large house, almost new."
   No one was home when the fire occurred.
   Roan Mountain Fire Chief Terry Lynn Proffitt said that by the time his department returned from a fire at the home of Steven and Lisa Crews, "there might have been an hour's lapse or so. We had time to get our trucks kind of straightened out and were getting ready to go back home and had to go back out.
   "Between us and Watauga, we got swamped last night, I think," Proffitt said.
   Firefighters responded shortly after 10:30 p.m. to a house fire at 158 Old Rock Quarry Road and were still on the scene at 3 a.m., according to Proffitt.
   "Where we were at, the air temperature was 9 degrees," he said. Members of Hampton, Elk Park, N.C., and Newland, N.C., fire departments were called and Avery County Fire Association's ladder company was brought in to battle the blaze.
   "Because it was so high up, the roof was freezing over on us where we were trying to get into the upper part of the house. I don't see how the boys stayed on it. I guess there was just enough heat in it, it kept it from getting slick. A little later on, it got so dangerous we pulled them off and went ahead and brought in that big truck (from Avery County)," Proffitt said.
   "We never had no problems as far as things freezing up until we started breaking down and packing everything back on the truck. We had one truck that did freeze to the ground," he said.
   Carter County Sheriff John Henson said the Old Rock Quarry Road fire is under investigation. "They had it put up for sale and the meter was pulled on it, so it most definitely wasn't an electrical fire," Henson said.
   "The only trouble that we had was where the trucks had spilled water on the roads from running in and out so much, it turned into ice so we had to call the state Department of Transportation out to salt the ice.
   "We kept Joe Morrell and his crew busy. It was solid ice. You could park your car on a bank around where they were at and it would just slide back off. Mine slid plumb down through the field. Where the water was freezing so fast, it was a real traffic hazard," Henson said.