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Fires indirect result of power outage – Motorist apparently clipped pole after falling asleep at the wheel

This mobile home on Old Ship Circle was destroyed by fire during the power outage.

Official reports indicate that a freak traffic accident was the indirect cause of both a fatal blaze that ravaged a Carver Avenue home early September 12 and claimed the life of a 65-year-old woman who lived there, and another fire that destroyed a mobile home just a few hours earlier on Old Ship Circle.

Fire officials have determined that candles left unattended in the mobile home were the catalyst for a destructive blaze that was reported Monday night, September 11. And, while an official determination has not been made as to the cause of the fatal early morning fire on Carver, reports are that candles were also burning inside that dwelling.

The candles or some other form of alternative lighting had become necessary after a downed power pole triggered an eight-hour electrical outage that swept from Carver Avenue northeastward to the fringes of the Robinsonville community.

“You just don’t see that every day,” said Atmore Fire Chief Ron Peebles. “A power pole got knocked down, people had to use alternative means of lighting —candles, flashlights, whatever, and that created a dangerous situation.”

The unfortunate chain of events began around 6:30 p.m. on September 11, when a 2001 Honda Accord veered off Martin Luther King Drive, between its junctions with Crow and Carver streets, and sheared an Alabama Power electrical pole.

According to reports filed by Atmore police, the Accord’s driver, 35-year-old Gary Hetherington of Atmore told officers that he and an unidentified passenger both fell asleep as they drove along the city street. The Atmore man said he did not know he had hit the pole and could not remember breaking the pole in half. In fact, he said, he didn’t even remember that he had been driving the car. No citations were issued.

Hetherington and his passenger were taken by ambulance to Atmore Community Hospital, where they were treated for minor injuries and released.

A fire that swept through a mobile home on Old Ship Circle wasn’t discovered until the resident, who had left two candles burning inside the structure when he left to visit his mother, returned at 9:51 p.m. AFD reports show that the man told firefighters that he lit two candles and placed them on a dresser, then later left home without giving them a second thought. The home was a total loss.

The Carver Street fire was reported at 3:42 a.m. on Tuesday, September 12, slightly more than an hour after power had been restored to the area around 2:27 a.m.

When the conflagration was brought under control, firefighters and police discovered the body of Jane Lee Russell inside the charred remains of the home.

The fire is still under investigation, but official reports indicate that candles, lit prior to restoration of the home’s electrical supply but still burning while Russell and her grandson slept, might have been a factor in the fatality.

“The (State) Fire Marshal’s Office is still investigating that one,” Peebles said. “I know that candles were the cause of the Old Ship fire, but I don’t know anything about whether or not there were candles burning in the Carver Street house.”

The fire chief added that a situation such as the one that evolved last week proves that small lights that run off batteries or other sources are a much safer alternative than candles.

“People need to know that candles are dangerous, especially unattended candles,” he said as he slowly shook his head. “One of those little lights that you can get at the dollar store or most any other store is a lot safer. That’s probably the best thing to do when the power goes out.”