Residents left homeless

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Staff report

Two elderly Suffolk residents are homeless after a fire totally destroyed their home over the weekend.

The Suffolk chapter of the Red Cross is temporarily providing shelter for the family, officials confirmed on Monday.


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Fire officials believe the blaze started as a result of a defective chimney; however, the residents, one of whom is confined to a wheelchair, managed to escape unharmed thanks to the advice of a 911 operator and a passing neighbor.

When firefighters arrived on the scene around 8:28 a.m. on Sunday, they found the home fully engulfed in the 500 block of Battery Avenue. Emergency crews spotted thick brown smoke coming from the two-story dwelling as they topped the Main Street overpass approximately one mile away.

Occupants of the home, Charlie Bivens and Elizabeth Thomas, were both outside when firefighters arrived. Because of the extent of the fire, two families in an adjacent duplex were also evacuated.

Thomas initially noticed smoke seeping from the wall of the home, and then called 911. Acting on the advice of the dispatcher, Thomas assisted Bivens in exiting the house, leaving with only the clothes they were wearing. But Thomas realized that Bivens wasn’t wearing his shoes and went back inside to retrieve them in the midst of the intensifying flames.

Meanwhile, James Whitley, of the 800 block of Battery Avenue, who was out riding his bicycle in the area, noticed what was happening and stopped to coach Thomas out of the house. He also helped the residents make it safely across the street.

Battalion Chief J. C. Knight, Jr. confirmed that the home, located in the Saratoga Place section of Suffolk, valued at $22,800, was destroyed along with all its contents. The fire is believed to have started inside the wall surrounding an unlined chimney. An attached wood-burning stove was the home’s primary source of heat.

Flames spread across the living room ceiling and up the outside wall, engulfing the house.

The Disaster Response Team from the Suffolk Chapter of the American Red Cross immediately responded to the scene.