I should have been more observant of demeanor of the firefighters on the scene of the blaze that winter day in South Carolina.
The remnants of the rural farm house smoldered on the ground on a little rise under a gathering of trees. Rising out of the smoldering ashes were concrete steps and a porch and twisted hunks of metal that were once, a stove, a refrigerator and a water heater
Most of the firemen huddled in a group near what was the back of the house. I had known them for five or six years, and we had attended many late night gatherings such as this. This one was taking place in the daylight after an early morning blaze resulted in the rubble.
A four-year-old boy was missing. They were checking to see where he was, whether he had run on off or maybe had been staying with a relative. The men were quiet. Most of them were fathers. The fire chief himself had a son in elementary school.
As I continued to ask more questions, they finally quit talking entirely and the chief said simply, Don't draw attention. Don't look around. We've found him. I looked puzzled and he gestured just a few feet away to a mound gray dust. He's there. I tried unobtrusively to pick out the image of a small body but never could.
The search for the boy away from the house had been a ruse perpetrated for family members and to give officials time to get the right family members on the scene for proper notification.
The firemen had searched the remnants of the dwelling after they had gotten the blaze under control and found the remains where the child's bed had been on the back corner of the house. It was one of the places that firefighters are taught to check for missing children when they go through a burning house to save people. Fearful children sometimes hide under their bed or in their closet, seeking refuge.
A text book case, this particular 4-year-old had evidently done the same and perished.
There are other text book examples from this fire that occurred more than two decades ago. The origin was determined to be a wood stove that was placed too close to combustible walls of the frame house.
Woods stoves will work without incident for years sometimes, gradually charring the wood inside walls, fire officials said. Then on one cold winter morning the stove is stoked again. The nearby walls heat up, the charring unknown behind wall boards has reduced the combustion point and a fire begins.
This is not intended as indictment of wood stoves. They have kept families safely warm for generations. They need to be properly installed, maintained and supervised.
Reporters learn dozens of reasons for deadly fires, improperly stored flammable liquids, improper use of extension cords, people smoking in bed, improper use of electric heaters.
This is a season for taking note of fire hazards. The heating season that is on us results in numerous house fires that we need to take caution about. That's why we all need to stop for a bit during October, Fire Prevention Month, and look around our homes for dangers.
We need to honor our community firefighters during this time, also. They give up hours and days of time to help keep us safe, save our lives and clean up from tragedies. They put themselves in danger for us.
LifeStore Bank will be providing information about fire safety, proper use of smoke detectors and developing a plan for escaping a house fire. They will deliver the message in elementary schools this week and will have a special program Oct. 21 at the Mount Jefferson Road location, spreading the word of safety.
Let's all listen.
Lonnie Adamson is Editor/General Manager of the Jefferson Post.