By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore Fire Department personnel almost missed a good meal last Thursday, January 3, when separate blazes broke out at apartment complexes on opposite ends of the city just as firefighters were getting ready to join their volunteer peers for a catered dinner.
The second alarm came in just as firemen were returning from the first fire-suppression effort.
Three AFD fire engines and a Walnut Hill unit were dispatched to McRae Street Apartments, in the city’s southeastern quadrant, at 6:31 p.m. to battle a raging fire that ultimately displaced two families and caused some degree of damage to at least six units.
The fire, which started in a downstairs apartment, interrupted the AFD-hosted monthly meeting of the Escambia County Volunteer Firefighters Association that included a catered dinner. Several of the volunteers followed the professional firemen to the site in their person vehicles and pitched in wherever they could.
“We had some people; we had a crew,” AFD Chief Ron Peebles said. “We had some of the volunteers from the Association that came to the fire, and we had a crew from Walnut Hill, so we had plenty of help.”
The downstairs apartment sustained heavy fire and water damage in its kitchen, where the fire started, but had smoke and water damage throughout. According to fire reports, “burn patterns on the wall showed that the fire started at an electrical outlet near the stove.”
The apartment immediately above was filled with smoke, forcing the overnight evacuation of a mother and two children, and several other units were affected to a lesser degree by smoke and/or water.
“We had two families that had to have somewhere to stay that night, the people from downstairs and the ones who lived right above them,” said Peebles, who noted that AFD Chaplain Tom Tschida contacted local American Red Cross officials to assist the displaced individuals. “At least three or four other apartments had some smoke and water damage, and another one just had smoke damage.”
A woman who lives in the apartment complex but was with her husband and son in Mobile, where the child was hospitalized, appealed frantically on social media sites for information on the blaze before Atmore News was able to help ease her family’s tension.
“Thank you, and I hate to say it, but I am grateful it wasn’t ours,” the woman replied. “We have enough going on as it is.”
Meal still on hold
AFD units began clearing the scene, and hungry firemen began preparing to return to the dinner table, when the second call — that a car was aflame at Bragg Street Apartments, just off Martin Luther King Drive in the northeastern section of the city — forced another change in plans.
Two truckloads of firefighters rushed to that scene, where they found a 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix ablaze.
Fire reports show that flames were “coming from under the hood and starting to roll into the car’s front passenger section” when firemen arrived. The owner told firefighters that he started the car, then “a few seconds later, flames began to erupt from under the hood.”
Official reports indicate that the cause of the destructive flare-up “could have been a fuel issue or a wiring issue.” The car was a total loss.
The fire was brought under control in about 20 minutes, and firefighters again prepared to head back and see if the horde of volunteers had left any food. As the last man was getting into a firetruck, someone noticed smoke coming from the car’s battery and its back seat.
A large crowd watched as the firemen dismounted, returned to the car and used hand-held extinguishers to eliminate those threats before they were finally able to clear the scene around 9:10 p.m.
AFD Head Capt. Daniel Love said Monday that he and his fellow firefighters eventually did get to eat their long-anticipated meal.
“Somebody had brought it down to the station; it was there, waiting on us, when we got back,” he said.