Fire kills man in mobile home with no electricity

Becky Rebeck's son planned to help rewire the mobile home Johnny Bell had been living in so the elderly man could stop using candles and a lantern for light.

But a fire that started in Mr. Bell's bedroom and spread quickly throughout the trailer killed the handicapped Grovetown man Wednesday morning.

Martinez-Columbia County Fire Rescue authorities couldn't confirm whether the fire was caused by the candles or the lantern, but neighbors said Mr. Bell did not have electricity at his home in the 600 block of Al Dempsey Road.

Columbia County Deputy Coroner Harriett Garrison said it appeared Mr. Bell, 67, succumbed to smoke. Mr. Bell was transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Augusta for an autopsy. He was an amputee, having lost his left leg, Mrs. Garrison said.

"He was kind of a loner. He didn't want to bother nobody," Mrs. Rebeck said. "He was a good neighbor. I'm going to miss him."

Mr. Bell ate holiday meals with the Rebecks, who lived next door to him for more than 15 years and allowed him to retrieve water from their well.

Mr. Bell did not have water or electrical service to his home and was using candles and lanterns for light, Mrs. Garrison said.

"We knew he was having trouble in the last year," Mrs. Rebeck said. She said she'd heard a Grovetown church was raising funds to install a new pump and pipes in Mr. Bell's well.

Mrs. Rebeck said her son, an electrician, had planned to help rewire Mr. Bell's home once the well was complete.

Though she knew Mr. Bell had some family living in the area, Mrs. Rebeck said she didn't often see visitors at his house.

"He was a pretty quiet guy," neighbor Glenn Bowman said, adding he didn't see Mr. Bell often, but the pair spoke when he did. "He kind of kept to himself. He was a real nice fellow."

The fire began about 6 a.m. Mrs. Rebeck said her grandson thought the flames were coming from a trash fire since they often saw Mr. Bell outside burning rubbish.

Mrs. Rebeck's son and husband ran down to the single-wide mobile home and broke a window to get Mr. Bell out. But the smoke, fire and heat prevented them from entering the home, she said.

"My dad tried to help him get out," said Mrs. Rebeck's granddaughter, Alexa Rebeck, "but he couldn't get in."

Reach Valerie Rowell at (706) 868-1222, ext. 110, or valerie.rowell@augustachronicle.com.