‘Father figure’ killed in Columbia house fire remembered by neighbor

‘Father figure’ killed in Columbia house fire remembered by neighbor

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Richland County Fire Marshal’s Office continues to investigate the cause of a house fire which killed a Midlands man Wednesday morning.

Tracy Roberts, 50, died in his bedroom. His death was due to smoke inhalation “from a smoldering fire,” the coroner said.

The fire started around 5 a.m. on Westgrove Court, officials said. That’s off Harbison Boulevard near Broad River Road.

Durrell Martinez said Tracy Roberts was like his second father.
Durrell Martinez said Tracy Roberts was like his second father. (Source: WIS)

Durrell Martinez, a family friend and neighbor who lives a few houses down, said the past 24 hours have been devastating.

Martinez said he is best friends with Tracy Roberts’ son, Nick Roberts, and said they’ve known each other since they were little kids. Martinez calls Roberts a second father.

“I’m always going to have my personal father, but he was a father figure to me from the start,” Martinez said. “He was a great person, he was full of life. He lived life to the fullest.”

Martinez said he was home early Wednesday morning when he heard the sirens and saw the flashing red lights.

“I just happened to walk outside to see what was going on and I saw everything down here, but there was so much going on I didn’t want to come down here at the time,” Martinez said.

That was until he found out what house fire officials responded to.

“Once they told me what house it was in I ran down here,” Martinez said. “I was just down here a few days before, you know, talking to him. You know, just in the same room where he was at. So to go in the room and see that the bed is completely burnt and stuff like that -- you know, it’s just hard to think about what went down.”

Chief Aubrey Jenkins with the Columbia Fire Department said there was a fire alarm in the house, but it’s unclear if it was working at the time.

“Normally the fire is not actually the thing that is going to cause your death, so to speak, it’s going to be the hot gasses and that smoke. Because that smoke just chokes you out and suffocates you,” Jenkins said. “This is a devastating reminder to let people know that smoke alarms -- you need a smoke alarm, they work.”

Officials said two other family members were in the house at the time of the fire.

Both made it out safely and did not suffer any injuries.

Fire crews have not yet said what caused the fire.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Columbia Fire Department and Richland County Coroner’s Office continue to investigate.

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