By Dave Russell
A Friday morning fire left a woman and her son homeless but alive, thanks to closed doors, smoke alarms and the efforts of the beaten-up teen.
A call came in to dispatch around 5:45 a.m. about a house fire at 40 Champion Lane, according to Sylva Fire Chief Mike Beck.
Champion Lane is a small dead-end road in the Dillardtown area.
It took about half an hour to contain the fire and the Sylva Fire Department stayed on scene about three hours to mop up, he said.
Although they know it originated in the living room, authorities have not nailed down a cause.
“We believe it was electrical in nature,” Beck said.
In addition to Sylva, personnel from the Cullowhee, Balsam and Savannah fire departments responded, as did the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Harris EMS.
There were no injuries to the residents of the home or the first responders, Beck said.
According to Jackson County tax records, the frame and brick home sat on about 3/4 of an acre with a total tax value of about $170,000.
Lena Woods lived in the home, which she owns with other family members, along with her son, Logan Woods, a freshman JV basketball player at Smoky Mountain High School.
The home was not insured.
Smoke alarms save lives
Jackson County Fire Marshal Michael Forbis was quick to point to the role of early detection in getting the Woods to safety.
“The smoke alarms in the house woke her up,” Forbis said. “She went in the hallway and started walking towards the kitchen and living room and she thought maybe it was a light flickering. When she got in there, the couch was on fire. She tried putting the fire out with blankets from a chair across the room but it just made it worse and spread the fire.”
Woods beat on the door to Logan’s bedroom, waking him up and telling him to get out of the house, Forbis said.
She told him to climb out his bedroom window.
“She went back to her bedroom and grabbed her purse and some personal belongings. By the time she got back out into the hallway, the smoke was very thick and black and both doors to the outside of the house were blocked – both exits,” he said.
Logan Woods had by that time exited the house via his bedroom window, Forbis said.
“She went to his bedroom window and he was able to help her get out of the window,” he said.
‘Close before you doze’
A new-ish initiative among fire experts is encouraging people to keep doors closed when possible.
“They slept with their doors closed, and the amazing part of it is, as bad as that fire was and how hot it was in there and how much smoke was produced, every room with the door closed had very little damage. He was able to get all of his clothes out of his room after the fire,” Forbis said. “There was a storage room with the door closed that is totally untouched other than a little smoke damage. Right across the hall was her bedroom. When she left the second time, she left the door open and that totally destroyed her room with smoke and heat.”
“Close before you doze” is a new push among professional firefighting agencies, Forbis said.
“Them closing the doors and having working smoke alarms is what allowed them to get out of the house safely and why they are here today,” he said.
All Jackson County fire departments and the Fire Marshal’s office offer free smoke alarms for residents.
Forbis can be reached at 586-7507 for anyone interested in a free, potentially life-saving smoke alarm installed in their home.
Leeunah Woods, Lena Woods’ aunt, set up a A GoFundMe that can be found by a Google search on Lee Woods, Sylva.
Leeunah Woods is the wife of Thad Woods of the auction house in Haywood County.
“Their house caught on fire early this morning January 20 and is a total loss,” Leeunah Woods wrote in the fundraiser narrative. “She is a single mother, working but living like many of us, paycheck to paycheck, raising a wonderful son, who is in the ninth grade. They had no insurance.”
Logan Woods was injured in a Smoky Mountain JV basketball game the Tuesday before the fire, she said.
“He suffered a fractured cheekbone and damaged his sinus cavity,” she wrote. “Even though he was so sick and sore, he was the one that had to break a window out of one of their bedrooms, get out and then reach back up to get his mother out. She said she would not have made it if it had not been for Logan because of all the smoke she had inhaled.
“She knows that she has a long road ahead and right now nowhere to live. She has faith in the Lord and knows he will take care of them.”