The assistant chief at Sheldon Fire District died early Wednesday while supervising his crew as it worked a large home fire at Brays Island Plantation.
Lee Walters, 54, collapsed about 20 minutes into the efforts to extinguish the blaze, and he was taken to Beaufort Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to authorities.
Walters is believed to have died of natural causes, according to the Beaufort County Coroner's Office. An autopsy was scheduled Wednesday at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, but results weren't available late in the day, according to the Coroner's Office.
Sheldon firefighters arrived at about 6 a.m. to a fire at a single-story home at 2 Pocotaligo Place in the gated community southwest of Sheldon, according to a statement by Chief Buddy Jones. When they arrived, the house, which was unoccupied at the time, was heavily consumed by flames, Jones said.
Firefighters extinguished the fire shortly after Walters collapsed, he said. No one else was injured.
State Law Enforcement Division investigators were called in and worked the case throughout Wednesday, though officials said they don't believe the blaze will lead to any criminal charges.
Local firefighters were somber and quiet Wednesday in the wake
of Walters' death. He worked the last six years of his 39-year fire service career at the Sheldon Fire District.
"He was an outstanding member of our department," Jones said in his statement. "He was loved and respected by every member of our department."
Walters was well liked and known to firefighters throughout the county and state.
"This loss will be felt throughout the fire service," Burton Fire District Chief Harry Rountree said in a statement.
Walters leaves behind his wife, Lynn, who is a commissioner with the Sheldon Township Fire Commission, and a son, Jason, who volunteers with the Sheldon Fire District and is a full-time firefighter at Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue.
Jones, Sheldon firefighters and Walters' family declined to comment further Wednesday.
The family will receive friends from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday at The Baptist Church of Beaufort. Services will be 11 a.m. Friday at The Baptist Church of Beaufort. Copeland Funeral Home is in charge.
Republished with permission of The Beaufort Gazette.