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Classmates, community mourn girl killed by Aiken County fire

Traci Smith
Traci Smith(WRDW)
Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 12:01 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 17, 2021 at 3:50 PM EST
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NEW ELLENTON, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - A 10-year-old girl has been identified as the victim of a house fire Wednesday in Aiken County — the fifth victim of a local fire in 12 days.

Aiken County Coroner Darryl Ables said Thursday that Traci Smith died in the fire at 26 Independent Blvd.

He said an autopsy showed she died from smoke and soot inhalation and thermal injuries.

Crews responded to the fire around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the home off Chime Bell Church Road about a mile from Silver Bluff High School.

Investigators searched through the night for clues to find out what caused the home to ignite.

A neighbor we spoke with didn’t want to be named, but says he saw the child get off the school bus just minutes before the fire happened. He says he was reading his Bible when another neighbor knocked on his door telling him the house next door was on fire and someone was trapped inside.

Fire officials say when they arrived at the home, it was fully engulfed with flames.

It took Silver Bluff Fire Department crews about an hour and a half to control the fire. When they were finally able to make it inside, they found the girl’s remains.

Fire officials aren’t sure yet what sparked the fire, but they do say it appears to have started in the front of the home. Due to the damage, fire officials couldn’t confirm whether there were any smoke detectors.

Neighbors say it was gut-wrenching to see family members arrive on the scene.

The mother was reportedly involved in a car crash trying to rush to the scene. We know there were injuries in the crash, but don’t know whether the mom was injured.

Students and employees in the Aiken County school district are mourning the 10-year-old.

“The Aiken County Public School District, Greendale Elementary School, and Redcliffe Elementary School families are mourning the loss of fourth-grade student Traci Smith following a tragic fire Wednesday afternoon,” the district said in a statement. “Our prayers and continued comfort are with Traci’s family and the Greendale Elementary and Redcliffe Elementary families today during this time of grief.”

The district said counselors and additional staff would be on site at Greendale Elementary and Redcliffe Elementary over the next two days to support students, faculty, staff and parents.

The Silver Bluff Fire Department received assistance from New Ellenton Fire Department, Jackson Fire Department, Beech Island Fire Department, Langley Fire Department, New Ellenton Police Department and Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.

The deadly fire is still under investigation.

The American Red Cross disaster-trained volunteers are now assisting the family whose home was damaged by a fire. The Red Cross is helping three people by providing financial assistance for immediate needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, along with referrals to much needed resources.

It’s peak fire season

The blaze comes at a dangerous time of year — peak season for house fires. Four other people have died in local fires in less than two weeks:

The Red Cross says in just the past few days, it’s helped at least 12 families who’ve lost their homes.

It’s a trend emergency responders see every winter.

Last week at Azalea Park Apartments in Augusta, seven families lost their homes when a fire destroyed one of the buildings.

“Literally this past week, we have responded to 12 families just in the past week who have lost their homes to home fires,” said Susan Everitt, executive director of the Red Cross in Augusta.

According to the Augusta Fire Department, as temperatures drop, the risk for home fires heats up.

Crews work to extinguish a fire at a home on Independent Boulevard in Aiken County on Dec. 15,...
Crews work to extinguish a fire at a home on Independent Boulevard in Aiken County on Dec. 15, 2021.(WRDW)

As of a few days ago, the department had responded to 15 fire-related calls this month. Last December, crews responded to 20 calls total for the month.

So calls are coming at a faster pace than a year ago. For every serious fire they respond to, so does Red Cross.

“We respond to about 250 home fires every single year. So it’s literally five a week. But this past week, we responded to 12, so that is definitely an uptick. But we’re hoping that is not a trend that we’re gonna see continuing,” said Everitt.

The main reason we see more fires in the winter months is because people are trying to keep warm.

“You’re turning your heaters on maybe for the first time. There’s some clothes lying next to it or books or magazines or something that catches fire,” Everitt said.

Cooking is another top cause, as well as electrical issues.

The Augusta Fire Department says to be careful when cooking and make sure you don’t overload power outlets. When it comes to space heaters, keep them off of carpet or rugs and don’t use them if they’re too old.

“If you have a working smoke alarm, you have about double the chances of surviving because you get that early detection, that early notice. So if you have a smoke alarm, just take a second to test it,” said Everitt.

If you don’t have a working smoke detector the Red Cross or the fire department can give you one. You just have to give them a call.

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