The Daily Commercial--Online Edition

Blaze claims only 25 percent of home


11/27/02
By Marcy Levinson
Daily Commercial Staff Writer

LAKE YALE

Charles and Virginia Phillips are thankful today that stangers were able to keep the family’s possessions from going up in smoke.

Charles Phillips, 41, awoke Wednesday morning to find his North Emerelda Island Road mobile home becoming engulfed in flames. He tried to battle the blaze himself but was soon joined by a bunch of good Samaritans he had never met before.

“If it wasn’t for the neighbors to come out and help him, everything would have been gone,” said Virginia Phillips, 37. Daryl Gravatt, 34, wasn’t a neighbor, but was installing a fence on property next door. He also had a truck with a 525-gallon water tank on the back and two 100-foot hoses.

Gravatt and his crew from Gravatt Fence Company — Wayne Trent and Frank Ryan, along with Gravatt’s wife, Kathy — immediately jumped into ac-tion. They attached the hoses to Phillips’ water and then switched to the portable tank when the home’s electricity was cut off.

Gravatt, who never thought he would enter a burning building, and certainly not one owned by a stranger, followed Phillips inside the home when it was apparant he was searching for pets.

“We would only be like one-foot off the floor, and we went in about 25-30 feet,” Gravatt said. “I had to crawl on my hands and knees. All I could see were his socks (in front of me). I just followed his socks.”

A sooty dog and a cat were saved but two cockatiels, family pets for eight years, died in the fire. Phillips, his wife and children, ages 7 and 12, have also been displaced because of the blaze.

Gravatt made the 911 at 10:58 a.m. and fire crews arrived on the scene about 24 minutes later. Thanks to the efforts of the Gravatt crew, only about 25 percent of the mobile home was de-stroyed by the fire, although the remainder is unihabitable because of smoke and water damage, District Fire Chief Doug Luce said.

“The guys did a real good job getting in and knocking it (the fire) down,” he said.

Neighbors also appeared on the scene to offer help. Phillips did get burned on his hand and foot, but refused medical treatment.

Gravatt, with no thought of being labeled a hero, was disappointed his crew could not have saved more family momentos.

“To make matters worse, we got the whole house under control,” he said. “Then, back by the bathroom, there were flames shooting out from under the house. We dragged hoses through carport, shooting water under the house. Then the cops came by and said put down the hoses and let the house burn down.”

Gravatt said the crew stood back from the home for about seven more minutes, forbidden to approach the home, and watched it again go up in flames.

“I felt like I could have done more,” said a frustrated Gravatt. “I would have had all the flames out — but, I know they were looking out for my safety,” he said of police. Fire officials said the blaze was caused by an electrical problem.

Phillips worked hard to keep the fire from spreading to his children’s bedrooms, and managed to toss most of their belongings out the windows. Still, the fire claimed most of his and his wife’s clothing.

The girls and their mother will be staying with her family in Hainers City, and Charles Phillips will remain on the property in a camper for the time being.

The home was insured, but the family’s future is uncertain. For information on helping the Phillips family, call (800) 672-2233.