Five family members were left homeless Tuesday when a fire ripped through their house on Pete’s Drive in North Hall.
Hall County fire crews arrived just after 1 p.m. to find the 1,500- to 1,700-square-foot home about 50 percent involved in fire, but the blaze quickly spread and engulfed the remainder of the home.
“We don’t have nothing left,” said owner Robert Stephens.
According to family members, the fire began in the living room of the one-story, three-bedroom home that had been the residence of Stephens and his family for decades.
Hall County Fire Services spokesman Scott Cagle said it appears an electric space heater may have caused the fire.
Stephens’ wife, Kathy, alerted family members, many of whom were sleeping at the time, to the blaze and was later taken by ambulance to the hospital to be checked.
Tony Reyes, Robert Stephens’ grandson, said he ran back into the house at one point to look for the family dog, but his younger brother, J.J., dragged him out by his feet when he was overwhelmed by smoke. The dog was later found uninjured.
As three Hall County fire engines battled the blaze, a chaotic scene erupted down the street as relatives arrived distraught and anguished by news of the fire.
“It’s a shame,” said Buck Stephens, Robert Stephens’ brother. “I like this house.”
Meanwhile, family members were openly critical of the fire department’s response, often yelling at firefighters and asking why they hadn’t done more to save the home.
“Why does it take so long?” Robert Stephens asked. “I want to know. Some (of the house) could have been saved.”
Family members said they thought it took more than 15 minutes for crews to arrive from the nearest fire station, about one mile away.
But according to Cagle, there was a delay in calling 911 because the residents did not have access to a phone in the initial turmoil as the fire spread.
He said fire crews responded in four minutes, and that they saw a large, black column of smoke — an indication the fire was already consuming the home — as they pulled out of the station.
“And with past experience it always seems like it takes longer for us to get there than it actually does,” Cagle said in an email to The Times.
“We realize it’s hard to watch your home and belongings being destroyed by fire and you want the fire department to be there as soon as possible. We have had people before say it seemed like 20 minutes (when) in reality it was five or six minutes.”
Family members said they would stay with relatives while they looked for assistance in rebuilding the home, but declined help from the Red Cross on Tuesday. According to Hall County records, the home, built in 1940, was appraised at $37,000, and family members said they had no insurance to cover their loss.
The fire adds to a tragic week for the Stephens family. According to family members, the brother of Kathy Stephens was the gunman in a murder-suicide in East Hall last week. Family members said they were devastated by the incident, calling it inexplicable.