Photo Credit: Kristina Lewis
“I swear to you on my life I saw that man on fire,” Carly Hildebrant said, wide-eyed and barefoot. She and her brother, Adam Hildebrant, along with his girlfriend Kristina Lewis, live next door to 198B Little St., which was engulfed in a fire Thursday morning.
No one was killed or seriously injured.
Carly Hildebrant was in the kitchen when she saw flames in the kitchen of the identical house next door in the Carr's Hill neighborhood just east of campus and south of downtown. Her neighbor was panicking in the kitchen with flames on his arms, she said. By the time he got outside, he had extinguished himself and was unharmed, saying not to call the cops.
“It became clear very quickly that it was not contained,” Adam Hildebrant said, and dialed 911 at 10:27 a.m. The three grabbed their cat and dog and ran across the street.
Michael Lonneman, a resident of an apartment building a few doors over, watched the fire too. “When I saw the first tree go up, I was like, ‘Oh shit, that’s gonna get ugly,’” he recalled. “Hearing the glass shatter was the strangest thing.
“Chris [Vogeley] was running around like a mother hen, calming everyone down,” Lonneman said. Vogeley lives across from the house and owns some of the buildings on the street.
Within four minutes the police and fire departments arrived. The Athens-Clarke County Police Department got there first and had successfully evacuated the residents of the two houses flanking either side of the fire, mere feet from the burning house and the blaze, which spread to a tree in front.
Battalion Chief Roger Evans of the ACC Fire Department said they could see the smoke as they were coming down Oconee St., but when they got there, despite their speedy response time, “so much fire was involved, we mainly focused on making sure the other structures were not in danger.”
The closest fire hydrant wasn’t sufficient, but with a second one found around the corner on China Street, they were able to keep the surrounding houses safe until the flames were low enough to go in with hand hoses.
The cause of the fire was not yet officially determined, but according to the neighbors and one police officer blocking the street, one of the three men who lived in the house fell asleep while cooking.