Houston & Peach

From our archives: Trooper Stewart saved woman from 2003 fire

Editor's note: This is a Feb. 7, 2003, story from the Telegraph archives about Trooper Brian Stewart's role in saving a Houston County woman from a fire.

A 69-year-old widow escaped injury in a fire early Thursday after she was awakened by a state trooper pounding on her front door.

"I'm just thankful to the Lord that he (the trooper) was there --- that He sent him," said Carolyn Clements of 1111 S. Houston Lake Road.

Her home was destroyed in the blaze.

"It was just a house, and we have insurance," she said. "The thing I really hate is my husband's pictures burning up."

Wilbur, her husband of 25 years, died of cancer in November.

Trooper Brian Stewart of Bonaire was northbound on Houston Lake Road on his way to work at the Georgia State Patrol office in Forest Park shortly after 5 a.m. when he saw smoke over the treetops.

As he drew closer, Stewart said he saw flames shooting out of the roof of Clements' home. He called in the fire to dispatchers, pulled over, leaped from the car and ran to the porch. He said he was yelling and pounding on the front door.

Stewart said he was about to break in the door when he saw Clements come out a side door.

When Clements awoke to the banging on the door, she said she didn't realize there was a fire or that it was a state trooper at the door. She feared an intruder was trying to get in.

"If it was somebody up to no good, I figured I could out-run them," Clements said.

She said that while she heard crackling noises, she didn't see any smoke. Clements said she was more worried about the unknown person attempting to get in her front door than the odd sounds. The fire was apparently in the attic just above her as she made her escape through the one-floor home.

Clements said she grabbed her keys, her glasses, her shoes, a cordless phone, some jewelry and headed for the side door of the house.

Safely outside, she saw Stewart, dressed in uniform, coming toward her.

"It still didn't sink in that my house was on fire," she said.

It wasn't until she backed away from the house that she saw the flames shooting through the roof and realized how narrowly she'd escaped harm.

"She was very calm and very courageous," Stewart said.

Houston County firefighters arrived at the scene but were hampered in their ability to fight the fire because there is no fire hydrant on Houston Lake Road within 1,000 feet of the house, according to Houston County Fire Chief Jimmy Williams.

The nearest hydrant is located about 1,500 feet away on Tucker Road, Williams said. A fire hose had to be stretched to reach the hydrant, he said.

The 10- to 15-minute delay was costly, Williams said.

"I feel like we could have stopped it sooner --- maybe a 50 percent save," he said.

Instead, it was a 100 percent loss.

Hydrants are scheduled to be installed nearby when Bass Road and the new Houston Lake Road are completed in a few months, Williams said.

Neighbors Elizabeth and Jeffery Hastings live across the street from Clements.

"That fire was so intense we could feel the heat at our front door," Elizabeth Hastings said. "It was just engulfed."

Stewart had placed his coat around Clements and stayed with her until the fire was out and all that was left was rubble.

"There's not a whole lot you can say to comfort someone in some situations," Stewart said. "I just tried to reassure her that she's OK and this was only a house --- that although there were many memories, a home can be replaced."

He said he doesn't feel like a hero.

"I have to give God the glory. I was just in the right place at the right time," he said.

Clements found comfort in her friends from church who arrived on the scene as word of the fire spread. The American Red Cross showed up, too.

The fire was put out about 90 minutes after firefighters arrived, although it continued to smolder into the morning, Williams said. The last truck left after 10 a.m. The cause still is under investigation, Williams said.

"Well, at least I still have my remote control," Clements said with a laugh. Turns out she'd actually grabbed the remote instead of the cordless phone when she made her escape. "Don't know what I'll use it for. But I've got it."

--- To contact Becky Purser, call 923-3109, extension 243, or e-mail bpurser@macontel.com.