One dead, one injured in Thanksgiving fire

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

While most of the community was still entertaining dreams of turkey and pumpkin pie, Caldwell County emergency responders were roused from their beds by a call about a house fire in rural Caldwell County. By sunrise, they would make a discovery that would ruin Thanksgiving for a Caldwell County family

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The blaze, currently thought to be accidental in nature, ravaged the two-story home at 2063 St. John’s Road, and claimed the life of a resident there, 38-year-old Jose Gonzales, according to the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office.

“When we arrived on scene, we received some conflicting reports [about the victim],” Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Ritchey said. “Some were saying that he hadn’t felt well, so he didn’t go out, and others told us that he was not in the residence.”

Sadly, as it turns out, Gonzales was present in the home when the blaze sparked, and later succumbed to what is believed to be smoke inhalation injuries.

“Our first responders did a great job with this scene, and containing the fire in a relatively short amount of time after we arrived,” Ritchey said of the volunteers from Chisholm Trail Fire Rescue, McMahan Fire Rescue, Maxwell Volunteer Fire Department, Mid-County Volunteer Fire Department and the Bastrop Volunteer Fire Department. “They were able to contain the fire and locate the victim, but unfortunately, some of the information we received caused some delays in extracting him.”

Ritchey reported one volunteer firefighter, who he declined to name, was injured while executing a search of the upper story of the home, where at least one onlooker thought Gonzales might have been sleeping. That firefighter was treated and released from Seton Kyle over the weekend.

“He was up there doing a search, while the house was an inferno,” Ritchey said. “And during the course of that, received second-degree burns to his hand.”

Gonzales was later found on the ground floor of the home.

Caldwell County property records reflect that the home was purchased in 2010 by a Guadalupe Gonzales, but does not reflect a homestead exemption, so it is unclear whether the deceased was, in fact, the homeowners. Authorities have not released any information about surviving family, or other residents on the property.

The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office and the State Fire Marshall’s Office have released preliminary findings that the blaze was accidental, and foul play is not suspected in Gonzales’s death. The investigation remains ongoing.

While it is unclear the cause of the fire, Ritchey said the tragedy is an appropriate time to remind residents that, as temperatures drop, the danger of accidental fires increases.

“People use space heaters, heating lamps, and other devices, both indoors and outdoors near their houses, to keep their houses and pets warm,” he said. “And it never hurts to remind people how dangerous that can be.”

According to a 2013 study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 25,000 accidental fires are caused each year by improper use of heating devices, resulting in more than 6,000 injuries and 300 deaths.

General safety tips, along with proper installation and maintenance of smoke detectors, can help to prevent those casualties. Those tips include:

General Portable Heater Safety Tips

  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from furniture or other combustible material, such as curtains and bedding. Don’t place heaters on carpets or rugs.
  • Locate space heaters on a hard, level surface where a child or family pet cannot brush up against them.
  • Never leave a space heater on when an adult is not present in the room.
  • Never keep flammable liquids near a space heater.
  • Mobile homes should use only vented fuel-fired or electric heaters.

 

Electric Space Heaters

  • The safest space heaters for the home, plug electric space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Use a heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger if an extension cord is needed
  • Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch, to shut off the heating element if the unit topples over.

Ritchey reminded area residents to check and change the batteries in their smoke detectors at least twice annually. Those who need assistance with smoke detectors or other fire prevention equipment can contact the Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management at (512) 398-1822, the Lockhart Fire Department at (512) 398-2321, or reach out to their area volunteer fire department.


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