Poga family latest fire victims
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Simple safety measures can help guard against fire loss

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF

   Another Carter County family's home went up in flames Friday morning, leaving the mother, father, and two children with only the clothes on their backs.
   Elk Mills, Butler, and Hampton Volunteer Fire Departments responded around 9 a.m. to the home of Tony and Elizabeth Guy, 1032 Poga Road. The family was away at the time the fire broke out.
   Melanie Guy, Elizabeth's sister, said Elizabeth had taken the children and was at their mother's when the fire occurred "so the kids had their good clothes on, good shoes and coats, but that's the only outfit they've got. And the car was gone so that was out of the way," she said.
   The Guys are staying with family temporarily. "They lost everything. They are not sure what they're going to do yet," Melanie said.
   "They have a little boy, Matthew, who is 4. He wears a size 4 and size 10 shoes. And they have a little girl, Kelsey, that's 20 months. She wears a 24 months or a 2T, size 4 diapers, and size 5 shoes."
   Tony Guy is in need of size 38-32 pants, XL shirts, and size 10 shoes. Elizabeth wears size 18 pants, XL shirt, and 8-1/2 shoes.
   "Me and my sister are about the same size, so she can use some of my clothes for the meantime, and my husband has clothes that her husband can wear," said Melanie.
   "She just feels so humble. She says, 'I just hate people having to go to so much trouble for me.' "
   Melanie said that before the fire, her nephew, Matthew, had a collection of Batman action figures which he kept on a shelf in his room. He had left two of them in the bedroom floor and those were rescued by one of the firemen.
   "He said, 'See Momma, I knew if I put them up that they would get in trouble, so I left them in the floor and they got saved.' "
   Donations to the Guy family may be made by calling Melanie or Todd Guy, 768-2699, or by contacting Carter County Sheriff John Henson, 542-1846.
   Sheriff Henson said he has hauled several carloads of goods to families who have been burned out of their homes in the last week.
   "I most definitely appreciate all of these donations that people have been giving to these people. I appreciate it and I know the people do.
   "Anybody that's got anything, just call the sheriff's department and we'll see what we can do for them."
   Steven and Lisa Crews of Roan Mountain who lost their home Tuesday have received enough clothing donations, according to the sheriff's department, but still need bedroom furniture, kitchen chairs, living room furniture and a refrigerator.
   Henson said he believes the rash of fires stems from the drop in temperatures and people trying to heat their homes.
   "The heat, when it's real cold, cuts down on your wattage and it causes your furnace to get hotter than normal and it causes a lot of fires," the sheriff said.
   David Nichols, president of the Carter County Fire Association, offered some precautionary measures:
   * Don't dry clothes when you're not at home. "Try to be there with it, because if that dryer vent is stopped up, it'll normally catch on fire and go through the wall and that is bad news."
   * Make sure your chimney is free of creosote and soot buildup. "You should have already had your chimney cleaned out," Nichols said.
   * Make sure smoke detectors are functioning properly. "The batteries in your smoke detector should have been changed when the time changed (at the end of October). If not, you need to do that right now."
   * Make sure there's nothing near your heaters and if you're using electric heat, that the cords are not frayed.
   * Have your heat system serviced at least once a year.
   "I just had a problem with my heat pump that could have set my house on fire," Nichols said. "The fan relay on mine melted underneath the house. It could have been very bad."
   * Make sure there are no flammable items near electric or baseboard heaters and that there is adequate clearance for curtains and furniture.
   * Make sure extension cords are not overloaded. "All extension cords have a load rating and if you're using a small one and you've got a portable heater plugged in to it, chances are it's not big enough to carry it. Read the instructions on the heater and make sure what kind of cord you have to have if you are using an extension cord," Nichols said.
   * If you're using a kerosene heater, double check the fuel container to ensure you are refilling with kerosene and not gasoline "and don't fuel the thing while it's lit," he said. "Put the heater somewhere so that if it does fall over, it wouldn't be in too bad a shape as far as falling into a basket of clothes or something like that.
   "I think most manufacturer's instructions that come with the heater tell how you can take it outside and test it to make sure that the mechanism that shuts it off, if it does fall over, is working."
   * Use a fireplace screen to keep sparks away from carpet. Make sure wood stoves have adequate clearance from walls and use a fire-resistant mat, stone or tile to guard against overheating.
   * When cleaning out ashes, put them in a metal container and allow live embers to go out completely or wet them down. "Don't just take them outside and throw them out. You could start a forest fire," Nichols said.
   * Clean out exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens. "Lint builds up real bad around those little motors, so they need to be serviced every once in a while by somebody. We've had at least two fires involving those," Nichols said.
   "This is the worst time on us to fight fires because of the cold and the worst time to have them. You have more sources to cause a fire because of the heating systems," Nichols said.