UPDATE: Space heater likely caused fatal fire

Mark Sams Sr. recently told friends he thought he'd live to be 100. If he hadn't tried to put out a fire in his home this morning, the 83-year-old might have made it.

Sams died in a house fire at 3565 Fleming Drive in east Bibb County at about 5:30 a.m.

Firefighters say Sams' wife, 83-year-old Lucy Sams, awoke to flames and got out of the house while her husband stayed behind to try to put out the blaze.

Bibb County fire investigator Capt. Tom Musselwhite said the preliminary investigation shows a heating device ignited the fire as temperatures dropped into the upper 30s.

"This, like any other fire death is a tragedy," Musselwhite said.

Bibb County coroner Leon Jones pronounced Sams dead inside the house, while his wife sought refuge at a neighbor's house.

"It's a terrible tragedy," Jones said. "They had been married 60-something years."

Archie Anthony, Sams' cousin's son who lives next door, said he saw the fire when he awoke and called the fire department.

"I got up to get a drink of water and I just happened to look out the window and I had seen flames shooting up and I immediately called 911 and called one of the family members," Anthony said. "I came on outside to see what I could do, but once I got out here everything was up in flames."

By the time firefighters arrived, flames were already coming through the roof of the one-story brick home off Masseyville Road near the Jones County line, said Donnie Mercer, chief of training for the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department.

The flames were so hot they melted The Telegraph newspaper box next to the driveway about 20 feet from the house.

Firefighters urge people to make sure space heaters are placed away from combustible materials, are functioning properly and do not have worn or frayed cords.

Everyone is encouraged to check batteries in their smoke detectors to make sure they are in working order. Firefighters encourage people to replace smoke detector batteries when clocks are changed twice a year. The end of Daylight Saving Time, when people will set clocks back an hour, falls this weekend.

"If you've got an elderly neighbor, please contact them and see if you can talk to them about their heating system," Musselwhite said. "Be their friend. Help them out any way you can to make sure their heating system and smoke detectors are working and safe."

Above all, Musselwhite says to flee a burning building. Do not try to fight the fire to save your belongings or your house, he said.

Anthony said Sams will be missed.

"He was an elderly gentleman, probably one of the nicest gentlemen anyone would ever want to meet," said Anthony, who spoke to Sams daily. "He would always talk to me about the past and the older times and things like that. He was a very religious man also and we talked a lot about the Bible, stuff like that, and farming. It's a tragic loss, a tragic loss to a community."

Come back to our Web site for photos and video from the scene