Blaze started by child playing with lighter

A Nassauville family is trying to recover from a fire that destroyed their home and all of their possessions the day after Christmas.

"They are really shook up," said Brenda Hall, mother of the homeowner. She said they have trouble sleeping at night.

"The little ones. . . we don't mention it around them."

Damage from the fire is estimated at $40,000 and the family doesn't have insurance.

The house, located at 3408 Leo Drive, belongs to Kenneth Hall and Teresa Kay Hollowell. They are staying with friends, and Amelia Island Plantation has offered them a week's stay in one of its villas, said Brenda Hall.

The fire started around 2:20 p.m. Friday while Hollowell's sister was babysitting Hollowell's two boys, Joseph William Howle, 8, and Tyler Dean Howle, 4.

According to the investigation report, the fire was caused by a child playing with a lighter on a couch in a bedroom of the home.

Nassau County Fire Chief Chuck Cooper said when he arrived at the house he was told Joseph was still inside. Cooper and Lt. Darron Ayscue entered the house before the fire was under control to find him.

"Our job is to save lives," he said. "We were going to do everything possible to get to that child."

Joseph was later located down the street at a friend's house.

"The fortunate part was he was found and there were no injuries to the occupants and our protective equipment prevailed," Cooper said.

The chief suffered minor burns on his hand and ear and Ayscue escaped injury despite falling through the floor. Based on damage to the firefighter's protective equipment, the flames were estimated to be in excess of 1100 degrees.

"If we would have been wearing anything less than the best the burns would have been severe," Cooper said.

He said the Nassau County Fire Rescue Department has one of the best gear systems in the state.

Brenda Hall said the family needs everything; food, clothes, bedding, furniture, etc. Monetary donations can be made in the name of the Hall family at Wachovia Bank, 1860 South Eighth St. Clothing, furniture and other items can be donated at the A1A Storage Center at 463915 SR 200 in Yulee or at Nassau County Fire Rescue Station 70 at A1A and CR 107.

The family needs boys clothes sizes 3 and 7 slim, women's clothes size 2 or 3 and men's pants size 34.
Children start almost 42,000 fires a year
Fires caused by children playing with lighters and matches are more common than fire safety officials would like.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 41,900 reported fires started by children in the United States in 1999, with 165 deaths, 1,901 injuries and $272 million in direct damage.

"The majority of child-playing home fires begin in the bedroom, such as was the case for one of our Nassau County residents on the day after Christmas," Nassau County Fire Chief Chuck Cooper said in a press release. "Fortunately there were no personal injuries involved, however one family lost their entire home and all of the contents in the blaze."

Officials say there is an urgent need for wider use of effective fire safety educational programs. They also say there is a need for better product labeling on items that could be used by children to start a fire.

"Most child-playing home fires are started with lighters or matches and family members must be encouraged to supervise children and to keep dangerous fire-play articles out of their reach and sight," Cooper said. "The items ignited by home fire play are principally mattresses, bedding or clothing, followed by upholstered furniture, trash and papers."

For more information on preventing fire injuries, contact Nassau County Fire-Rescue at 491-7525 or visit