Originally created 03/06/02

3 men burned in fire



Augusta fire officials say a smoke detector could have helped three men escape serious burns Tuesday morning after a house caught fire on Forest Estates Drive near the Augusta Mall.

Cassidy Thomas, 25; John Weldon, 42; and Timothy Donren were severely burned and were rushed to Doctors Hospital's Joseph M. Still Burn Center. As of Tuesday evening, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Weldon remained in critical condition and Mr. Donren was in serious condition, hospital spokeswoman Ginger Tyra said.

Arnold Tihpen, who was trapped in the house by flames, broke a window and climbed outside, said Lt. G.B. Hannan with the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department. Mr. Tihpen suffered a minor burn to the hand, but declined treatment.

Fire officials credited the fast work of neighbors with alerting the people inside and preventing further injuries.

Lt. Hannan said he found no smoke detector in the house.

"Fire doesn't wake you up," he said.

The fire appears to have started about 7 a.m. on the kitchen stove, quickly spreading to the dining room and other areas of the house. A neighbor driving by spotted the fire, called 911 and knocked on the door to wake up the people inside, Lt. Hannan said.

One of the people inside tried to fight the fire with a garden hose without success, the lieutenant said.

Neighbor Ronnie Ingram, whose wife helped get the victims outside, said the burns appeared pretty serious. "There was skin actually peeling off their arms," he said.

Five people were in the house, and four of them were guests who stayed overnight for a party, police said. The homeowners, John Walter and Maxine Donren, were not at home at the time.

The fire caused extensive damage to the one-story brick home. It has been ruled accidental, Lt. Hannan said.

"Fire doesn't wake you up." - Lt. G.B. Hannan with the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.