Louise Evans Poe never forgot the Christmas morning tragedy that claimed the life of her sister-in-law in 1958.
While dressing the children, Poes husbands sister brushed past the fireplace, igniting her sheer nightgown into a fireball.
The Poes got a phone call and headed to Opp, Ala., where Poes sister-in-law died three days later.
The heat had seared her lungs.
Changes in fabric and fireplace design make those type of fires rare these days, said Macon-Bibb County Fire Prevention Chief Larry Smallwood, whose own sisters dress caught on fire and burned her when he was a child in the 1950s.
One of todays greatest threats is kitchen fires, he said, which is the focus of this years National Fire Prevention Week.
At Mondays opening ceremony at 11 a.m. at Macon Mall, the annual childrens fire prevention essay competition will be dedicated to Poe, who taught in Bibb County for 39 of her 41 years in education.
Poe led the Junior Fire Marshal Brigade at Eugenia Hamilton Elementary School, teaching children the importance of stop, drop and roll, and having a family escape plan.
Weve had a lot of people make an impact in the schools, but this lady was exceptional, Smallwood said.
He had already planned to honor her before she died in June at the age of 89.
Some of her former students spoke at her funeral, including Sam Reid, who is now 48.
The Geico supervisor counts being the seventh-grade captain of the fire marshals as being one of his greatest accomplishments.
I was so proud to be selected, Reid said.
The day before school fire drills, Poe handed out red plastic helmets, but the students had to give them back the next day.
When you wore your red helmet that day and stood on your post, it was like being a real fireman, Reid said.
Poe had a tremendous impact on Reids life.
She just had a vested interest in the success of us as kids, he said.
Poes three daughters will be at the opening ceremony.
She was like a firefighter, said Violet Poe, her youngest child. She was so into the work of fire prevention. We couldnt have extension cords hanging or leave food on the stove.
At 2 a.m. one January morning in 1992, the then-retired educator hollered fire, fire in the Poes house.
Just to see if we knew what to do if there was a fire, Poe said.
Everyone was trained to evacuate and meet at the mailbox.
When Smallwood joined the fire prevention team, his supervisor warned him he better have his presentation in order when he got to Poes school.
Her reputation intimidated him at first.
But he realized her students put on a grand show with poems and skits in front of 300 to 400 students in the old school near Unionville.
I felt unneeded, Smallwood said.
When he holds Fire Prevention events this week, hell be thinking of her.
That was the sweetest lady Id ever seen in my life, he said.
To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.