Originally created 12/29/96

House fires bring hardships to Aiken families for holidays



AIKEN - Angela Nicholson couldn't bring herself to talk about her 12-year-old son Lamar, who died in a house fire less than two weeks before Christmas.

But the outpouring of support from family, co-workers and even strangers who've shared similar tragedies is helping her and her husband, William, get through their pain.

"It's not so much what people give," she said. "It's that people are calling and checking on us every day to see that we're OK."

On Friday, Mrs. Nicholson sat in the temporary home on Jehosee Drive that she, her husband, and 15-year-old son Shabazz share with Mr. Nicholson's uncles, James and John.

"There are so many people who were there for us," she said. "It's made us aware that we take for granted what happens to other people and should reach out to them like they reached out to us."

The Dec. 12 fire that destroyed the Nicholsons' Jasmine Ridge home was one of four Aiken-area residential fires during the holiday season. And in South Carolina, house fires remain a major cause of concern.

The devastation caused annually in the state by residential fires in lives lost and property destroyed is among the worst in the nation. More than 80 percent of last year's 108 fire deaths happened in residential fires.

State fire officials, who are compiling end-of-year data, say a recent commitment to educate adults and youths about fire safety is helping curb the number of fire deaths, but there is still a long way to go.

Fire deaths in the state fell by 10 percent in 1995, continuing a downward trend since 1990. The 108 fire fatalities in 1995 were preceded by 120 in 1994, compared with 178 in 1989.

Data for 1996 won't be available until midto-late January, said James Knight, spokesman for the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Charleston County led the state in 1995 with nine fire deaths, followed by Spartanburg and Chesterfield counties with eight and seven deaths, respectively. Aiken County had four fire deaths in 1995.

The leading causes of lethal residential fires were electrical wiring and smoking. Other causes were heating, cooking and children playing.

In the case of Denise and Stephen Hill, who are both medically disabled, a plan to demolish the shell of an unfinished home in front of their trailer on Old Friar Road went badly awry on Dec. 22. Mrs. Hill, 33, said she poured gasoline around the door frame, and the flames got out of hand.

Both the wooden structure and trailer

were total losses.

But Mrs. Hill says she and husband Stephen, 37, haven't lost hope that things will work out.

"I know that the Lord has not pushed me further than the limit of what I can take," Mrs. Hill said.

First Baptist Church and Mount Shiloh Baptist Church helped the couple live temporarily in motels. And the Hills have opened a fund at Security Federal. Donations can be made in care of The Hill Family Fund, P. O. Box 810, Aiken, S.C. 29802.

Brenda Williams, who is head of the household for a family of six, lost her home on Mississippi Avenue on Monday. The blessing is that no one was seriously injured, she said.

Ms. Williams' family - daughters, Neteaya Williams, 12, and Takasha Rouse, 15, her cousin Lamar Williams, 12, Keisha Rouse, 15, Dametrius Rouse, 1, and Sheletha Rouse, 7 - are staying with her sister Debra Hooper in Shiloh Heights while she waits to settle her insurance claim.

The children are coping as best they can, she added. "I told them material things can be replaced, and not to worry," Ms. Williams, 39, said. "It'd be a different story if I didn't have them."

Sam and Tina Green saw their Cushman Drive home go up in flames on Dec. 20. All they saved was their cat, Angel. A cousin, Rose Johnson, said Friday that the Greens are staying with Mrs. Green's father.

Efforts to reach the couple weren't successful Friday. However, Ms. Johnson said churches and friends have pitched in with donations of clothes, food and money.

Fire-safety tips
Here are some fire prevention and safety tips recommended by the State Fire Marshal's Office:

  • Never use a broken electrical cord.

  • Have an escape plan and know two ways out of every room. Have family fire drills.

  • Never go back into a burning building.

  • Don't let children play with matches or lighters.

  • Don't smoke in bed.

  • Store gasoline and kerosene fuel outside and refuel outside as well.

  • Clean and check smoke detectors and replace used batteries.

  • Cover grease fires with a lid; never put water on a grease fire.

  • Keep all materials that burn at least 3 feet from fireplaces and heaters.

  • Keep a tight-fitting screen or heat-resistant glass door in front of your fireplace.

  • Have your chimney cleaned regularly.

  • Buy a fire extinguisher for the house.