Neighbors counting their blessings after 'suspicious' fire destroys house next door

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Saturday, June 29, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- An incessant doorbell was the alarm that woke up Erica Rouse and her husband around 3 o'clock Saturday morning.

"A passerby was ringing my bell, but they were ringing it really hard, and I'm like, oh God, something's got to be wrong because they're laying on my bell," she explained.

It was a warning that she and her family needed to get up and get out. The house next door was on fire.

"We came outside, and it seems like in a matter of a couple of minutes, the roof was just ablaze. It was just like a thousand degrees because the heat was so intense," she remembered.

Almost in tears, Rouse says she watched as firefighters battled the burning home.

"First fire units arrived on scene. It had fire coming through the roof, mostly on the back side of the house at first," according to Lt. Neal Brown with the Augusta Fire Department.

Crews finally got the fire under control but not before flames licked the side of Rouse's home, warping the siding on her house and haunting her with memories of what could have happened. Just feet away from the blaze is Rouse's bedroom. The window is the middle of the melted siding leads to her 11-year-old daughter's room.

"I'm just so glad she wasn't here. I'm so glad she wasn't here because that's her room," said Rouse as she pointed to the damaged side of the house.

Investigators say the house that caught fire was also empty when the fire started, but Brown says among the blackened remains, something didn't look right.

"I left and came back once it cooled down a little bit to dig through the fire, and once I started digging through the remains, I found things that were very suspicious to me," he said.

Investigators are waiting on tests from the GBI crime lab to determine if they're dealing with a case of arson, leaving the fire with a cause unknown and Rouse with the mystery of what could have been.

"If not for that ring on the doorbell, we might have been in trouble, too," she said.

Fire officials say the homeowners moved out just a day before the house went up in flames.

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