Houston family flees fire that destroys home

lfabian@macon.comSeptember 5, 2013 

A loud pop roused Donald Earl and Debbie Whitby from their bed as the power went out about 3 a.m. Thursday.

About 10 minutes later, fire engulfed their home at the corner of White Road and Darin Drive near the border of Houston and Peach counties.

They escaped the flames with their two sons and two of their three dogs.

Donald Earl Whitby crawled back in for Booger, a toy poodle, who is believed to have perished.

The smoke was already too thick to safely rescue him.

“I couldn’t see and I got out,” he said. “I could hear him crying. I couldn’t get to that dog.”

Irwin Hadaway traveled from Macon to offer them a place to stay and heard how his son-in-law heroically tried to save the 2-pound dog, but it was too dangerous.

“(Donald Earl) came out the front door on his knees and when he got out, the front window blew out,” Hadaway said. “That’s how hot it was.”

The couple’s younger son, 17-year-old Phillip Whitby, first felt the heat and noticed a fire near the electrical box in his bedroom.

When his father came to see, it was a “boiling fire at that time,” the elder Whitby said.

Phillip was later coughing and complaining of chest pain, so he was taken to the hospital to be checked for smoke inhalation, said his brother Eric Gooding.

“I’m still in shock,” Gooding said about four hours after he was roused from his bed. “I thought I was still in a dream.”

Initially, there was no smoke, so the parents went outside to see if neighbors also lost electricity.

There was no storm, but Phillip alerted them to the fire that rapidly devoured the one-story, brick home.

“It’s a total loss,” Houston County Fire Chief Jimmy Williams said. “A lot of the attic was involved on arrival,” Peach 911 answered the first call and dispatched Byron firefighters and police officers.

Three units from Houston County quickly joined the effort as the house is actually in their county.

Firefighters blocked White Road between Hanover Drive and U.S. 41 for about three hours as they battled the fire not far from Eagle Springs Elementary School.

Whitby said he and his wife normally rise early and were sort of awake already, which gave them a head start on the smoke detectors.

“They went off, but by that time, we were already out,” he said.

When Donald Earl Whitby rushed toward the front door, away from the flames in his son’s room, it was already too late to rescue Booger.

Once the fire spread to the attic, it really flared up.

“Any time you have a fire through the roof and it’s spreading through the attic, you’re behind the eight ball,” said Deputy Chief Bill Smith, a fire investigator.

The wiring and power panel in the converted garage that houses Phillip’s bedroom is a probable point of origin, Smith said.

“We’re looking in that area because that’s where we have first reports and fire debris indicated it might have started there,” he said. “It’s an elimination process.”

Donald Earl and Debbie were planning to leave Friday for an Alaskan cruise.

Whitby’s brother-in-law Tim Pinson had convinced them to take the trip with him and his wife, Debbie’s sister.

Once the fire was out, Pinson and other family members were trying to convince them to go ahead with the trip.

The brothers-in-law went into the living room looking for the passports and found the water-logged itinerary.

“I think it’s a sign they should go,” Pinson said.

Whitby also recovered his packed suitcase, which was unscathed.

He was leaning toward going ahead with the vacation.

“I’m not going to worry about something I can’t do anything about,” he said. “One foot in front of the other.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

 

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