Luis Mendez said he was in his bedroom when he heard a noise like glass breaking at about midnight Wednesday and looked out to see his next-door neighbors’ home on fire.
Mendez said he went outside and tried to knock on doors and windows to wake them, but was unable to and called 911. Dalton firefighters found a married couple believed to be in their 60s inside and unresponsive at the small home at 217 Griffin St.
Both were resuscitated, taken to Hamilton Medical Center and eventually flown to a burn center in Augusta for more advanced treatment. Officials haven’t released their names but have said they were told by a family member the two “are improving.”
Deputy Fire Chief Gary Baggett said investigators don’t believe alcohol or drugs were involved. Although the investigation is still ongoing, they suspect some sort of human error, rather than an electrical problem, might have caused the blaze. The fire originated in the sofa in the living room. No evidence of the cause was found, but investigators did learn that the male was a smoker. Other potential causes have been ruled out.
About 12 firefighters responded to the call, which came in at 12:03 a.m., Baggett said, with the first personnel arriving just four minutes after the call came in. Griffin Street intersects with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The man was found in a front bedroom on his bed in cardiac arrest. He had some burns to his back, was suffering from smoke inhalation, and had to have CPR.
His wife was found in another bedroom on the floor, also unresponsive but with no immediately visible burns. Baggett said both had to have breathing assistance all the way to Augusta. Firefighters were able to begin some of that treatment before EMS arrived, he said.
The living room sustained “heavy fire damage,” Baggett said, and there was smoke damage throughout the rental structure. No working smoke detectors were found, Baggett said.
“A working smoke detector here would have made all the difference in the world,” he said.
Fire Chief Bruce Satterfield in a press release urged residents to get smoke detectors or check to make sure their existing ones are working.
“When there are working smoke detectors, we find the people outside,” Satterfield said.