‘Get out, get out’: Richland County residents describe fire that damaged 5 homes

Published: Jul. 31, 2019 at 6:44 PM EDT
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RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - After completing their fire scene investigation, the Richland County Fire Marshal’s Office has determined no foul play is suspected after a fire took place on Founders Lake Court.

Officials determined the fire started in the area of the HVAC unit at 12 Founders Lake Court. The fire made its way up the exterior wall of the home to the attic and roof. From there, it spread horizontally to homes nearby on either side.

The fire, according to the Richland County Fire Marshal’s Office, destroyed homes and damaged two others.

Investigators could not tell exactly what started the fire, but the investigation is still open pending the examination of other possible ignition sources.

Officials said the fire has now displaced 16 residents.

Wednesday, we were able to speak to relatives and residents who lived in the burned homes. They were returning to the homes to salvage whatever they could and have lost almost everything.

Resident Tiffanni Booze was at her home when it caught on fire.

“We can hear the popping. It sounded like gunshots, but I know it wasn’t gunshots and then from there, we can see people on the street saying, ‘ get out, get out, get out,’ So we just grabbed everything and ran. I was able to go back in. My cousin was in his room. I was able to wake him up, tell him to get out, grabbed my phone, grabbed out keys, we didn’t grab anything just went out the back door and from there we can see her house in total flames. It jumped to my bedroom and kind of just took over the whole house,” Booze said.

Some have asked why it took a while for the fire department to arrive on the scene.

Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said while there were some crews out on calls around the county, it took the nearest responding unit, 7 minutes for them to get here.

He says 5-7 minutes is standard in the county and initially in situations like this they aren’t just sending one crew.

“Initially what we send, we send 3 engines, we send 1 ladder, a rescue, that’s 5 units, along with 2 battalion chiefs. So when it was in route and it saw that it had heavy black smoke in the sky, they immediately called for what we call a ‘working fire dispatch.’ That got them an additional engine, the division chief on duty and our rehab,” Jenkins said.

Fire officials say there are 4 people to each crew.

Near Founders Lake Court, there are thousands of homes. Although Jenkins says he could always use more resources, he adds, he is confident with the amount of staff and stations he has in this area to be able to provide adequate public safety.

There are four fire department stations that could serve the area, between 2.5-6 miles away.

One other concern residents have, was the spaces between these homes.

While Jenkins says that played a factor, the chief said he is pretty sure homes in the county are built to code.

He added it is not just distance in this situation. Fire size, intensity, and building materials all played a factor. He said newer homes that have materials like vinyl and wood, with very few bricks tend to burn faster.

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