News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, October 1, 2013
AIKEN COUNTY, SC (WRDW) -- It was a deadly inferno that Gwen Johnson is still grasping to understand.
"God is in control. Only he knows what this is about," she says. "All the way up here as I was driving, I was just yelling out to the Lord. Talking to him. Begging him to please give peace to this family. I really didn't know exactly what had happened."
The Aiken County Sheriff's Office says three people died in a house fire on the 2200 block of Edgefield Highway around 2:10 AM on Tuesday.
Gloria Allen, the daughter of one of those killed, says 89-year old Helen Williams, William's daughter Diane Warren, William's son-in-law Calvin Warren died in the fire on Edgefield Highway.
Family and friends say Diane is a former educator and has taught math in Richmond County, Aiken County, and Allendale County too. She had retired to return home to take care of her mother, they say.
"To drive to Allendale from Aiken, an hour-and-a-half every day, and arrive before some of the local teachers, that's what Diane did. She devoted her life to children learning," says Johnson, a very close family-friend.
After the sun rose, the ruins were still smoldering, and investigators were left with a big task of finding out what set the fire. A family member who called in the fire was originally found on the scene by firefighters, and he was taken to the Aiken County Sheriff's Office for questioning.
"He is the only witness that I know right now, so we are still currently investigating," says Captain Eric Abdullah with the Sheriff's Office.
State Law Enforcement Division agents, some with K9's, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms were there to help. Capt. Abdullah says arson hasn't been ruled out. However, at the end of the day, the Sheriff's Office says no foul play was expected, but the investigation is still active.
"We try not to make any conclusions until we thoroughly investigate, because fire scenes are very difficult to investigate," says Capt. Abdullah.
As for the family and friends, they have questions too.
"But right now, that's not high on the priority list. What's high is supporting this family right now, because they are a wonderful, wonderful group of people," Johnson says.
The Sheriff's Office obtained a search warrant from a judge before investigators and the deputy coroner went inside. Captain Abdullah says that's something they do to cover all bases. The fire was originally called "suspicious" by Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton.
Aiken County investigators will return to the ruins on Wednesday to continue investigating.
The official cause of the fire has not yet been released, though it is believed that the fire originated in a garage which held two vehicles at the time.
Eureka Volunteer Fire Department, Couchton Fire Rescue, Center Fire Department, Graviteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville Volunteer Fire Department, Trenton Fire Department, the Aiken Department of Public Safety, and Sage Mill firefighters all responded to the initial call.
Firefighters worked together to shuttle water to a pool, since fire hydrants weren't located nearby.