NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- Little is left of a New Hanover County home after a fire early this morning. The victims are a Carolina Beach firefighter and his wife.
Thanks to years of training and the help of some neighbors, Deputy Fire Chief Grainger Soward and his wife Diane were able to escape from the third story of their home on river road.
"They were on the top balcony screaming 'cause they couldn't get down," neighbor Jeffrey Herring said.
The couple woke up to smoke filling their home. An investigator says Soward's training and preparedness definitely came in to play.
"Smoke detectors save lives," New Hanover Co. Deputy Fire Marshal Ray Griswold said. "They also had a rescue ladder to get out of the second floor, which they used, so there were a lot of different fire safety features that were used."
After the Sowards used their escape ladder to get to the lower balcony, neighbors stepped in to get them down.
"We got them and moved them away," Herring said. "They had gas and propane tanks and everything in the garage. They had 30,000 rounds of ammunition, and the fire department guy said 10,000 of them went off, so they were all going off when we were moving them."
The fire destroyed just about everything the couple owned.
The flames also melted the vinyl siding on a house next door.
Investigators have ruled out arson, but they are still trying to determine the cause of the fire.
A fund has been set up for the Soward family through the county courthouse, where Diane works. Anyone who would like to donate can visit any First Citizen's Bank in New Hanover County.
(Fire video courtesy John Bellm)