Two days in Athens: raging house fires and a fatal plane crash

Updated: May 13


By Joe Johnson

Athens-Clarke County Fire and Emergency Services has had a busy three days this week, battling two raging house fires and responding to a fatal plane crash.

The first incident occurred at about 11:22 p.m. Wednesday, when firefighters were dispatched to a house fire on Valleybrook Drive.

“On arrival, crews observed heavy fire involvement in about 75 percent of the structure,” Battalion Chief Nate Moss said. “Due to the conditions, the focus was to protect exposures and to attack the fire from the exterior of the structure.”

Moss explained that power lines were a safety hazard and prevented easy access to attack the fire at the rear of the home.

“Crews were later able to get the fire under control and perform a search for possible victims,” he said. “The owners and occupants of the residence were not home at the time of the incident and upon returning home, they declined the need for assistance from the Red Cross.”

Continuing, Moss said that at about 7:20 a.m. Thursday fire crews from a different shift that responded to the plane crash the night before were dispatched to a structure fire at 1650 East Broad Street.

House fire at 1650 East Broad Street

“On arrival, there were visible smoke and flames on the front and on one side of the structure,” he said. “The crews deployed multiple hose lines and made entry into the structure through the front door which was opened prior to our arrival. The firefighters executed an aggressive attack on the fire and quickly mitigated the situation.”

The house reportedly was vacant with utility services shut off, according to Moss, who said there was evidence that at least one squatter had been staying there, but no one was inside at the time of the fire.

“The home had utility services shut off and was reported to be vacant. There was an indication that someone may have taken up residence in the home, but no one was inside at the time of the fire,” the fire official said.

The plane crash occurred at about 7 p.m. Wednesday, when a single-engine Piper PA-24 went down in a densely wooded area east of Athen-Ben Epps Airport.

The airplane caught fire after impact, but Moss said by the time firefighters arrived the fire had diminished significantly and was extinguished by fire fighter using water spray cans.

The pilot, a 55-year-old man from Texas died in the crash, according to officials, who had yet to identify him by name.

According to Athens-Clarke County Coroner Sonny Wilson, the doomed flight originated in Louisburg, NC at 15:30 p.m. Wednesday, and the pilot owned an electrical contracting business in Texas.

He said the pilot had recently bought the vintage 1962 Piper PA-24 -250 Comanche single-engine plane from an estate sale in North Carolina and was taking it back to Texas when the aircraft "developed some type of engine issues and was attempting to reach Athens.”

Although Wilson believed he knew the victim's name, he could not release it until he is positively identified at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s State Crime Lab.

Police officers and firefighters on Thursday maintained a perimeter around the crash site to preserve it for investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The causes of both house fires are under investigation by local authorities, while the FAA investigates the plane crash.

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