Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

TOP STORY >> Grandson unhappy with fire response

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

A fire caused by a lightning strike on Hwy. 319 near Ward destroyed an elderly woman’s home and all her belongings Saturday night, but her grandson says he believes something could have been saved if the fire department had responded sooner and called for backup.
Timmy Wisinger, who serves on both the El Paso Volunteer Fire Department and the Mountain Springs Volunteer Fire Department, says he is disappointed with Mountain Springs’ response to the fire at Rita Harris’ home at 7963 Hwy. 319 about one mile east of Hwy. 5.
Wisinger said he drove from McArthur Drive in North Little Rock to Harris’ home in about 15 minutes after he got the call about the fire. Mountain Springs Fire Depart-ment arrived just one minute before he did, he said.

Wisinger also is critical of Mountain Springs Fire Chief Harold Ward for not calling El Paso Fire Department for backup although he said another firefighter eventually did make that call.

“The chief never called for additional help. I’m very disappointed,” he said.

“This fire department needs a lot of help. I’ve resigned. I just haven’t turned in my equipment yet.” Ward could not be reached for comment. Wisinger said a fire investigator for Farm Bureau In-surance told family members that the lightning that hit the telephone box on his grandmother’s house was one of three lightning strikes within one-tenth of a mile Saturday evening.

His grandmother, 4-year-old son and uncle were in the house when it struck, he said.

The house caught on fire, was in flames immediately and the family barely escaped. The fire burned for more than an hour before the 60 to 70-year-old house was consumed.

Eddie Heater, president of the board of the El Paso Volunteer Fire Department, said it is impossible to predict the effect of a lightning strike on a home. His home has been hit twice without being destroyed, he said.

But he said older houses often burn faster because the wood is dryer. In rural areas especially, fires often go unreported until it is too late to save the homes.

“By the time the flames are coming through the roof, you couldn’t pour Lake Maumelle on it and put it out,” he said. “By that time all you can do is protect the other structures around it.”