Deadly pattern develops: Local fires kill 4 people in a week

Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 8:30 AM EST
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WINDSOR, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - A person in Windsor became the fourth person to die in a fire within a week in the CSRA during a time of year when fire dangers rise.

The latest deadly fire was reported at 5:45 a.m. Friday at 526 Water Oak Drive, down the street from Oakwood Windsor Elementary School.

Arriving crews found a camper that was fully ablaze.

After the fire was out, a body was found inside the camper. He was identified as 29-year-old Sergio T. Villalobos, according to Aiken County Coroner Darryl Ables.

An autopsy showed Villalobos died of smoke and soot inhalation and thermal burns.

Authorities are investigating the origin and cause of the fire — the third deadly one in the CSRA within the past week.

Eugenia Gosdin, 82, died after suffering severe burns over 80 percent of her body on Wednesday in Augusta. She was cooking at her home in the 1800 block of Telfair Street when the fire jumped onto her clothes.

Two elderly sisters died in a fire Dec. 3 at 110 White Ash St. in Warrenville. Leila Ann Gantt, 72, and her sister Alice Gantt, 68, were trapped inside and died of smoke and soot inhalation and thermal injuries.

And although it wasn’t deadly, a fire late Wednesday at the Azalea Park Apartments in Augusta displaced at least 15 residents.

A vulnerable season

Three of the recent fire victims were older people, who are especially vulnerable.

“Older adults are at increased risk from home fires,” Augusta Fire Chief and Emergency Management Agency Director Antonio Burden said recently. “Older adults should have an escape plan in case of an emergency and have their home heating system inspected or professionally cleaned annually to make sure it’s in working order.”

It’s also a time of year when fire risks rise. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, heating is the second leading cause of home fires.

“The biggest mistake is putting something too close to a heating source,” Burden said. “Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from space heaters, fireplaces, stoves, and candles.”

Locally, space heaters are a common reason for heating-related home fires. People are encouraged to purchase space heaters that have an automatic shut-off switch that gets activated if it tips over. Purchase safe heaters that have been tested by a safety laboratory (there’s a sticker on the box).

Also, plug portable electric heaters into outlets directly instead of using extension cords or power strips; turn off space heaters off when you leave a room or are beginning to fall asleep; keep pets away from heaters; and check portable heaters regularly throughout the winter months.

Also raising the risk for fires is the Christmas season. Augusta firefighters say they get the most house fire calls on Thanksgiving. In second place is Christmas.

“Constantly motioning, constantly watering your live trees, checking your lights, recycle those trees as opposed to burning them. Make sure not to overload surge and electrical outlets,” Burden said.

On average, Augusta sees 22 fire calls in December, with about 11 electrical fire calls because of power outlets.

Burden says there’s something very simple you can do to save lives:

“Every room that you have someone that you love in, make sure that room has a smoke detector. So every room. Have a detector in every room,” he said.

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