As firefighters were hustling to Mildred Drive last month, they knew they had a challenge.
The 911 operator had lost contact with Louise Howard inside her burning house.
From what dispatchers could tell, the people inside were trying to fight the fire, according to dispatch logs The Telegraph obtained.
By the time the first truck arrived about 3 a.m. Dec. 30, it was too late. They had succumbed to the heavy smoke.
Howard, 77; her son, Calvin Howard, 29; and her cousin Jessie Bivins, 81, died at the scene.
Macon’s deadliest house fire of 2016 brought Bibb County’s fire-death toll to 10, ranking the community as one of the highest in the state for fatal house fires last year.
The U.S. Fire Safety Administration documented 111 house fire fatalities last year in Georgia, according to media reports compiled for their website.
According to those figures, only Atlanta rivaled Macon in the number of fire deaths, although the list is not comprehensive.
“Statewide, it’s been pretty horrific,” Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said.
After two fatal house fires in 2015, three multiple fatality fires spiked Bibb County’s 2016 report.
In recent years, 2013 was Macon’s deadliest with 14 fire deaths.
The numbers vacillate seemingly without reason, Riggins said.
Last year, sisters Geraldine Christian, 64, and Marcia Sauls, 51, died April 26 on Carmen Place.
Longtime friends Cheryl McGlynn, 57, and Troy Thomason, 56, were killed in a fire on Woodridge Drive on Oct. 5.
Ruby Davis, 68, was killed in a house fire Oct. 17 on Lilly Avenue. Karmen Johnson, 16, was killed Nov. 18 on West Oak Drive, and Walter Simmons III died in a fire on Longacre Drive on Feb. 15.
“Of all the fatal fires we had, we could only determine two had a working smoke detector,” fire Lt. Ben Gleaton said.
Five of the six fires happened in the middle of the night when victims can be caught off guard.
Howard’s home had an alarm that alerted them to the fire, but Riggins said the smoke detector is only one aspect of fire safety.
“You’ve got to have a plan,” Riggins said.
Families are encouraged to practice fire evacuation routes that include alternates if exits are blocked.
“You never know where the emergency will be. It could block Plan A,” Riggins said.
Keyed deadbolt locks can impede an escape, he said, and everyone must remember to stay low to avoid breathing in lethal smoke.
“Burglar bars — you’ve got to be able to open them,” Riggins said. “I’m a big advocate of opening your windows in the fall and spring to make sure they are not painted shut.”
Smoking materials are the likely cause of at least half of Macon’s fatal fires, and the cause has yet to be determined in the other three, Gleaton said.
In two of the fatal blazes, victims tried to put out the flames.
“If you have time to call 911, you have time to get out,” said a puzzled bystander on the morning Howard and her family members perished.
Firefighters urge everyone to make escaping the priority above all else.
Glenn Allen, a spokesman for Georgia’s Safety Fire and Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, said the state is still compiling its 2016 fire statistics, but preliminary data show a total of 146 fatal fires.
The office did not have a separate total for house fires to compare with the USFA figures.
Allen urged everyone to be especially careful with space heaters during the winter, which is a particularly deadly time for house fires.
“We’re having a nice little warm spell coming through, but we don’t want people to get complacent when the temperature dips down again.”
Bibb County fire deaths