Cause of Macon fire that killed mother, 3 kids under investigation

Telegraph staffJune 13, 2013 

Jennifer Caffee spent her days caring for her special needs daughter and mothering her other children.

Ten-year-old Wendy Chapman suffered from cerebral palsy and used a wheelchair.

Caffee also helped raise her deceased sister’s kids.

The family lived in a duplex at 504 Carmen Place, in Macon’s Lynmore Estates east of Broadway and north of Guy Paine Road.

Early Thursday morning, the duplex burned.

Jennifer Caffee and three of her daughters died. The daughters were Wendy, who was a Taylor Elementary fourth-grader, 13-year-old Elizabeth Caffee, who was a seventh-grader at Rutland Middle, and 5-year-old Holly Tucker, who was a kindergartner at Bruce Elementary.

Joey Bullard rushed to the scene once he learned of the fire at his sister’s home.

He had hoped he could help rescue her and his three nieces.

“I was going to try, but I got here too late,” Bullard said tearfully. “The rest of my family is dead.”

Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said during a news conference Thursday afternoon that the cause of the fire is under investigation.

“We believe it started in the core of the house and transcended into the attic,” Riggins said.

Riggins said that fire investigators found no evidence of working smoke detectors at the house.

Fighting the fire

A call about the fire came into the 911 Center shortly after 2:10 a.m. and the first firefighters on the scene rescued a man and two teen boys, Bullard’s brother-in-law and nephews.

Crews found multiple bodies while fighting the flames in the apartment at the corner of San Carlos Drive, said Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones.

Firefighters were able to recover the first body by 3:50 a.m., but flames were still flaring up through the attic and it was after 5 a.m. before the brick building had cooled enough that it was safe for firefighters to remove the other three.

The three survivors were rushed to The Medical Center of Central Georgia.

James Tucker, 38, the father of the youngest victim and stepfather to the other children, was transferred to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, where he was listed in fair condition Thursday.

Brandon Caffee, 17, and Scott Caffee, 15, were treated for smoke inhalation at the Medical Center.

Tucker’s daughter, 12-year-old Nicole, was staying with her grandmother up the street at the time the fire erupted.

Bart Caffee, the uncle of Elizabeth, Brandon and Scott, said the family attended Countryside Baptist Church, also on Carmen Place.

The children liked playing sports. Jennifer enjoyed cooking and posting recipes to Facebook, he said.

Since her sister died a few years ago, she’s helped her mother care for her sister’s children as well, Bart Caffee said.

A bouquet of sunflowers hung knotted in crime scene tape around the burned duplex late Thursday.

‘I had to dive out the window’

Teresa Walker, who lives next door to Jennifer Caffee and her family, said she awoke to the smoke but there was no fire initially in her adjoining apartment at 508 Carmen Place.

“I walked through the whole apartment, trying to get out,” said Walker, who is on crutches after her right leg was amputated below the knee last year.

Flames higher than her head where flaring up at both doors.

“I couldn’t get out the front or the back, so I had to dive out the window with one leg,” she said.

Walker said her rehabilitation had prepared her for all kinds of circumstances, so she was not hurt in the escape.

Veronica Walker, Teresa’s sister who lives next door, said there was no way to rescue the victims in the corner unit.

“Everybody was on their cellphones, calling for the firemen to get here,” Veronica Walker said. “The fire was coming from both sides, you couldn’t get in.”

Telegraph writer Harold Goodridge contributed to this report.

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