By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A fire that broke out in the early morning hours of July 9 destroyed two of three abandoned mobile homes that were known as a haven for drug users, homeless people and those who needed a place to stay while they overcame the effects of alcohol.
The blaze — in a remote area off U.S. 31, less than a mile from the Baldwin County line, at the intersection of Coleman and Johnson roads — almost cost one of those people his life.
Jerry Gehman, a captain with Nokomis Volunteer Fire Department, said the initial report from dispatchers caused a minor delay in the agency’s response to the three-trailer blaze, further hampering an often-futile effort to quell such fires.
“We were paged out at 7:30 (a.m.), but the initial page was kind of misleading,” the volunteer fireman said. “We were told that we had a structure fire in the vicinity of Coleman Road and Railroad Street, but there’s nothing but some fallen pine trees there. One of our firefighters finally located the fire and told me all three trailers — which are abandoned and have been sitting there for a while — were burning.”
Gehman said that as he rushed to the scene his mind drifted back to the previous night.
“The night before, we got a medical call, and I came through there,” he said. “There was a guy sitting on a couch by one of the trailers, with a big bonfire. That was kind of odd, since it was about 10:15 p.m., and I thought at first the trailer was on fire.
“The Holy Spirit told me to stop and talk to the guy, but I didn’t want to. The whole area there is known; we’ve been to drug overdoses there, and there’s no power to the trailers. The trailers aren’t inhabitable; the doors are open, and the windows are all messed up. It’s usually a place that’s bad, and nobody lives there, so I chose not to stop.”
On Friday morning, as Gehman and other NVFD firefighters arrived, “ a guy comes stumbling out of one of the trailers,” which by then was “fully involved” with flames.
“It was the same guy who was sitting on the couch the night before,” Gehman said. “I guess the siren woke him up.”
When reinforcements from Atmore Fire Department arrived to help control the fire, Gehman asked the unidentified man if he was all right and was told by the man that he was having trouble breathing.
An ASAP ambulance was called, and the man was taken to North Baldwin Infirmary in Bay Minette, where he was reportedly treated for smoke inhalation and released.
Gehman said the owner of the trailers showed up as firefighters were rolling up their hoses and chastised the firemen for not saving the two trailers, claiming that he was “about to fix those two (that were destroyed) and have them back in service.”
The landowner then showed up, pointing out that nobody was supposed to be in the area.
“That’s the way it was supposed to be for years, but people go there and do things they shouldn’t,” Gehman said.
He pointed out that the three-pronged fire — which he said was not related to the previous night’s bonfire — was under control by 7:59 a.m. but firefighters from Nokomis stayed on the scene until noon to make sure there were no flareups.
Gehman, who said the State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the fire, praised the work of NVFD personnel and the Atmore firefighters, who remained in a support role for nearly three hours.