Tabor City fire burns house to the ground, severely burning family

TABOR CITY, NC (WWAY) — A family is in the hospital and a little girl is being called a hero after their Tabor City home burnt to the ground overnight. According to Columbus County Fire Marshal Shannon Blackman, the fire started just before 1am Monday morning at 145 CH Buffkin Avenue, originating from a space heater in a child’s room.

After smelling something burning, a Tabor City nine-year-old turned off her space heater, allowing it to cool a few minutes before heading to bed. As the temperature continued to drop, she turned it back on, climbed to the top bunk of her bunk bed, and fell asleep. Just after 1am, she woke up to an unbearably hot room.

“The heater was burning and the fire was actually climbing up into the wall, and was starting to get up into the ceiling,” said Blackman.

Screaming, the nine-year-old climbed down and woke her five-year-old sister, guiding her through the burning door and to her mother’s room.

According to Blackman, “She had stumbled over stuff trying to get to her mom. She said it was dark. She said there was a lot of heat in the house. But she managed to get in there and alert him. ”

The six family members all made it out with second and third-degree burns, escaping just as some neighbors heard an explosion.

“We heard a loud boom,” said neighbor Suzanne Buffkin. “It woke me up. All the dogs in the neighborhood started barking.”

EMS worker Kevin Singletary was called to the fire just before 1:30. As he drove and heard the address, he realized he was responding to his own uncle’s home.

“I didn’t know if he was alive or not,” he said. “I didn’t know if none of them were going to make it.”

If it weren’t for the nine-year-old, Blackman’s not sure if anyone would have made it through the night.

“Like I said, it could’ve been worse,” Blackman said. “Luckily she woke up, she alerted everybody, she knew what to do. Like I told her when I met her in the hospital this morning, I told her you are a hero.”

Five of the six family members were taken to the hospital. Some eventually were airlifted to hospitals as far away as Augusta, Georgia.

With nearly half home heating fires happening between December and February, Blackman says it’s important to keep your family safe.

“Watch where you put your space heaters at. Make sure you have working smoke detectors in the house. If you’re using gas heaters in the house, don’t have your propane cylinders in your home. Have them piped to the outside.”

The Red Cross is making arrangements with the family, offering financial help, mental health resources, and other services.

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