Official: Smoke alarm saved 2 in Surry house fire

By John Peters -

Local authorities still are not certain what caused a late-night house fire on Smith Road Thursday, but one thing of which they are sure is that the family is fortunate to have smoke detectors in the house.

Surry County Fire Inspector Jason Burkholder said a woman and her daughter were able to escape the burning home after smoke detectors woke them up around midnight.

“When they heard the smoke detectors, they got up, smelled smoke and saw a glow of the fire,” he said. “They exited the house and called 911.”

Within minutes, firefighters were on the scene, but by that time flames were already shooting through the roof of the structure.

The fire broke out in the home at 359 Smith Road, off of U.S. 601 between Mount Airy and Dobson. Burkholder said the owner, Joseph Paul Hutchins Jr., was not at home at the time because he was out of town. He described the individuals staying at the house as “friends, acquaintances … but they are not related.”

The two are staying with family now, the fire inspector said.

Once they arrived on the scene, firefighters went to work trying to contain the fire, battling for nearly two hours before bringing the fire under control. He said the house and its contents were a total loss, though he had no monetary figure on the damages.

Burkholder said there were no injuries reported in the blaze.

Doug Jones, county fire marshal, said he and his crew were still on the scene Thursday afternoon, sifting through the ruins trying to determine the cause of the blaze.

“No cause of fire has determined,” Burkholder said. “It somewhat appears to be exterior in nature, but that’s still under investigation.” He said that he, Jones and other investigators would probably remain on the scene most of the day.

“We’re just trying to, more or less, look for any particular spots that will give us clues. We’re basically trying to eliminate all possibilities as we go.” He explained that should help them narrow the probable origin down to one or two potential causes.

Burkholder said they hope to arrive at the cause within a day or two.

Five different fire departments worked the blaze during the night. They were White Plains Volunteer Fire Department, Ararat Volunteer Fire Department, and Central Surry Volunteer Fire Department, along with Franklin Volunteer Fire Department and Pine Ridge Volunteer Fire Department.

In reflecting on the fire, Burkholder emphasized the role the smoke detectors played in saving lives, and the need for every home to have them in place.

”This house, it’s fairly new, it was finalized in 2013; so with today’s building codes, it had smoke detectors that were interconnected throughout the house.”

He explained that meant if a detector in one portion of the house detects smoke, all of the devices will sound.

“That saved their lives,” he repeated, before going on to say smoke detectors do not have to be part of an interconnected system to be effective.

“Any working smoke detectors would be better than none. An interconnected system would be better, but every household should have working detectors, even if they are not interconnected.”

By John Peters