2 area residents injured in separate house fires

Gomer Koon talks on his cell phone Friday morning while checking on his brother's burned home at 9503 North County Road 225 in Gainesville. His brother, Daniel Roberts, was badly burned in the overnight blaze.

Joe Byrnes/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, December 2, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 2, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.

Investigators looking into two overnight fires — one in which a Gainesville man was burned over half his body and another in which a Bradford woman and her dog escaped as their home was consumed — said Friday they might be the first heater-related fires of the season.


Space heater safety tips

– Keep all space heaters at least 3 feet away from household combustibles.

– Use space heaters only as a supplementary source of heat. These devices are not intended to replace the home's heating system.

– Do not use extension cords with space heaters unless absolutely necessary.
Inspect the heater's cord periodically to look for frayed wire or damaged insulation. Do not use a space heater with a damaged cord.

– Check periodically for a secure plug/outlet fit. If the plug becomes very hot, the outlet may need to be replaced by a qualified technician. This could be the sign of a potential home wiring issue.

– Heaters should be placed on a flat, level surface. Do not place heaters on furniture since they may fall and become damaged or break parts in the heater.

– Unless the heater is designed for use outdoors or in bathrooms, do not use in damp, wet areas.

– Look for the UL Mark on your electric heater. This means representative samples of the appliance have met UL's stringent safety standards.

– If you have a liquid-fueled space heater, use only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer. The wrong fuel could burn hotter than the equipment was designed for and cause a serious fire.

– When refueling, turn off the heater and let it cool down completely before adding fuel. Wipe away any spills promptly.
Before you buy a kerosene heater, check with your local fire department to ensure that it is legal.

Source: UL (formerly Underwriters Laboratory)

If so, the injuries would be rarities, doubling in one night the number of injuries in Florida caused by heater fires in nearly two years.

The first fire occurred Thursday evening in Gainesville, authorities said, when a man was using kerosene to heat his home and it suddenly ignited.

At around 8:30 p.m., Daniel Roberts came out of a house located at 9503 N. County Road 225, north of the Gainesville Regional Airport, engulfed in flames. He dropped to the ground and rolled, putting out the flames before emergency workers arrived, said Acting District Fire Chief Frank Diaz of Gainesville Fire Rescue.

Roberts gave a brief statement to Gainesville Police Department officers and walked to an ambulance under his own power, Diaz said. He then was rushed to Shands at the University of Florida with burns over more than half his body.

The first police officers to arrive said Roberts reeked of kerosene. He told officers he had been working with kerosene because he wanted to use it to heat his home. The rental home did not have a central heating system, firefighters said.

"We got reports from bystanders that he was trying to heat with kerosene — maybe fill a heater or use it to start a fire — but he did not know that someone else already had something else on in the house, and the fumes from the kerosene started the fire," Diaz said.

Hours later, Bradford County resident Cathy Cobbs, 52, was awakened by the barking of her small lap dog and discovered a fire roaring through her mobile home at 12579 SW 71st Ave. in Sampson City, located southwest of Starke.

The 12:30 a.m. fire destroyed the home, but the woman and dog were able to get out before her oxygen cylinders exploded.

Bradford County Emergency Management spokesman Michael Heeder told The Sun there was no indication of a working smoke alarm inside the mobile home.

Heeder also said Cobbs was treated for smoke inhalation and burns at the scene before being taken to Shands at Starke.

She later was transferred to Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville for more intensive treatment.

A Shands employee agreed to care for her dog while she is hospitalized.

Deborah Cox, a spokeswoman for the State Fire Marshal's Office, said that before Roberts' and Cobbs' injuries, there had been just one injury in 16 heater-related fires between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 30 of this year.

Nationwide, in 2009, the most recent year that figures are available, there were 480 deaths and 1,520 injuries in heating equipment fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Friday morning, Roberts' half-brother, Gomer Koon, of Fairbanks, was at the badly burned Gainesville home with Roberts' girlfriend, Tina Majors, cleaning up and salvaging what they could.

"It got him from here down on his arms," Koon said, gesturing toward his left elbow, "his legs, his backside. He's got three or four major surgeries to go through. They've got him on a ventilator right now."

There were also two dogs in the house, but they are OK, Koon said.

"I think that's why he got burned so bad — trying to get the dogs out," he said.

Majors said she was at work when the fire occurred.

She said they lost everything.

"We didn't lose him," she added. "And that's what's important."

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