LAKE WYLIE, N.C. -- A Lake Wylie family will have to rebuild from scratch in the new year after not one, but two, fires ravaged their home Saturday.
The second fire began just hours after the first, and after firefighters had searched the home for hot spots for more than two hours using thermal imaging equipment.
The first fire in the Forest Oaks subdivision started around 5:15 Friday afternoon, said Bethel VFD Chief Michael Laws. An electrical outlet in the Williams family’s living room had caught fire.
No one was home, and firefighters put the flames out quickly.
“I raced up to find it was in fact our house,” said Heather Williams. “Our boys were safe, but the house did catch fire.”
Williams, her husband, and their four children grabbed pajamas and toothbrushes and left the house because firefighters told them smoke and fumes made the home unsafe to stay in for the night.
Around 9:30 p.m., a sheriff’s deputy returning home from work spotted the house in flames again.
"It looked like a volcano,” said neighbor James Ronan. “When I came out in my driveway, the house was in flames.”
Someone called Williams to tell her what was happening.
“At first I thought someone was playing a bad joke,” she said.
Twice in one day?
“It's not unusual for a secondary fire or a possible rekindle,” said Chief Laws. “But what’s unusual is the amount of effort we put into it, for there to be a rekindle.”
Laws said the firefighters checked walls, framing, even ductwork for evidence of smoldering embers.
“We made six different efforts to locate any hot spots throughout the house,” he said. “Four times by firefighters, two by senior officers.”
The only other step they could have taken, said Laws, was to tear out the wall to inspect the ducts visually. But since they didn’t see evidence of hot spots, they didn’t see the need to do more damage to the home.
Confident the fire was out, firefighters left. But Chief Laws suspects smoldering embers in ductwork surrounded by insulation – beyond the camera’s eye – grew and spread to the attic.
“I was very frustrated about it as a chief and as a firefighter” he said, “especially as one who was here to put the fire out.”
The house and everything in it is a total loss, and Williams -- who was renting the house -- didn’t have renter’s insurance. They’ll have to start from scratch in 2013, and buy everything new.
Still, she’s happy her entire family is safe, and the family’s dog and cat were rescued. She doesn’t blame the firefighters for imperfect technology.
“They trusted the equipment, and it’s safe to say the equipment is no substitute for our firefighters,” she said.