Fayetteville and state fire officials continue to investigate the cause of a Saturday afternoon house fire that claimed the lives of an elderly married couple, who have since been identified as 95-year-old Lamar Beckwith and 89-year-old Catherine Beckwith, who would have been 90 years old later this month.
Fire fighters received the call to Biltmore Drive off Hwy. 314 near New Hope Road at 1:50 p.m. Saturday, and records show they were on the scene three minutes later, but video images of the incident show that the house was already fully engulfed in thick, black smoke by that time, and within another minute or so, large flames from the roof were reaching dozens of feet into the air.
Even so, Fayetteville Fire Captain and Battalion Chief Keith Harris, who was the first to respond to the scene, said he sent a rescue team into the fully-involved fire, because he had just moments before learned there were two occupants in the house. He says rescuers were inside the house only briefly when an explosion in the attic rocked the house and escalated the fire.
Rescuers retreated from the house after the explosion, which may have been caused by a propane tank stored in the attic, but Harris says they were sent back in a few minutes later, and at 2:07 p.m. they brought Mr. Beckwith out. Outside the house, they discovered that Mr. Beckwith had already passed away. Firefighters also located Mrs. Beckwith, but she, too, had already passed away inside the house.
Not long after rescuers brought Mr. Beckwith out of the house, Harris says the structure of the house began to fall, forcing his crew to fight the fire from outside the house.
Fire Chief Alan Jones praised Harris and his battalion for their quick response and brave rescue attempt, but he said he was sad that the city lost two residents in the fire. He said it is certainly the first time in his career, which goes back more than two decades, that anyone has died in a house fire in the City of Fayetteville, but he says it may be the first house fire fatality case since the city’s fire service was first incorporated in 1940.
Harris called it an “outstanding rescue of one victim and recovery of the second victim under extremely tough conditions.”
“It was a fast-moving fire,” Jones said. “We believe it was an electrical fire that started in the rear bedroom.”
Jones said his department believes the fire was accidental, but he said the state fire marshal and insurance investigators are researching information from the scene to determine the origin of the fire.
The Beckwiths were homebound members of Jonesboro First Baptist Church.