Carter deputy rescues elderly woman from burning home

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Deputy Jeff Markland of Carter County Sheriff's Department was patrolling Dennis Cove Road early Friday morning when he saw smoke coming from a house and heard an elderly female shouting for help.
   "I just did my job," Markland said modestly. "I helped an old woman across the street." Markland said he could see the woman inside the house in front of the door, so he dashed in and got her out.
   Melba Gouge, daughter of Hazel Wilson, 77, 316 Dennis Cove Rd., said that if it hadn't been for Deputy Markland, "my mother would have died."
   She broke into tears. "I just appreciate it so much that he was there."
   Gouge said her mother's bedroom is not far from the front door, however, "I don't know how she got there because she's not been able to walk. I don't know if she was on the walker or not."
   Deputy Markland said that after he got Wilson outside, "a neighbor came over that saw me trying to get her off of the porch. He got her under one arm and I got her under the other and got her across the road and into a chair.
   "I didn't actually go into the fire. It was just real smoky in the house. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. She did the hard part," Markland said.
   "She had an O2 (oxygen) hose in her nose and it was burned in two right at her chest. She had a couple of burned places on her gown. I was just in the right place at the right time, bless her heart," Deputy Markland said.
   Gouge said her mother suffered burns around her face and on her shoulder and legs, "but other than that, she's OK." The family originally believed the fire started from Wilson's oxygen machine, "but I talked to one of the ladies from EMS and she said it wasn't caused from her oxygen," Gouge said.
   Ed McNeil of Hampton/Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Department said the fire possibly was electrical in nature.
   In addition to the oxygen machine, there were three tanks of oxygen inside Wilson's bedroom which were leaking. They were removed to safety by members of the fire department.
   "If that oxygen had blew up, that would have been it," Gouge said. "The oxygen machine is just melted down; and in her kitchen, her little what-nots that she had up -- the little plastic ones -- they're just all melted together."
   Gouge said her mother usually wakes up around 9 or 10 a.m., and that she goes to Wilson's home around 9 or 10 a.m. "I get her up and I feed her and change her clothes and strip her bed and take care of her until about 1 or 2, and then I leave and pick up my daughter from school. We go back up there about 3:30 and see if she's all right and if she needs something to eat or drink, or something like that. Then my other sister comes and she stays until about 9 or 10 p.m."
   Gouge said her sister had spoken with her mother since the fire. "She wants to come back and my sister keeps telling her there's no place to come back to.
   "I don't think she's able to come back and stay by herself. If she doesn't come and live with one of her children, we'll have to put her in a nursing home. She's just fought it so hard to keep from going to a nursing home. But if she doesn't want to come and live with me or my sisters, we don't have any other choice," Gouge said.
   The early morning fire and a rekindle around noon destroyed the home, all of Wilson's furniture and clothing. Besides Hampton/Valley Forge, Stoney Creek, Watauga and Roan Mountain Volunteer Fire Departments responded.
   Gouge said Wilson's neighbors, Jeff and Patsy Whitehead and Dot and Larry Moffitt also helped out during the fire. "I really appreciate them," she said.
   "I just thank Mr. Markland for going in there because if it hadn't been for him, mom wouldn't be here. I just thank God. He (Deputy Markland) was our angel. He was mom's guardian angel."
   Wilson wears size medium gowns and size large house shoes. Donations may be left at the sheriff's department for distribution to Wilson.