Investigators search for cause of Piedmont house fire
by Laura Gaddy
lbgaddy@annistonstar.com
Dec 24, 2013 | 4467 views |  0 comments | 103 103 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Piedmont fire and police are shown Saturday at the scene of the house fire in which a small child died the previous night. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Piedmont fire and police are shown Saturday at the scene of the house fire in which a small child died the previous night. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
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The Alabama State Fire Marshal’s office on Monday was still investigating the cause of a Piedmont house fire that claimed the life of 1-year-old Korbyn Stitts Friday night.

Fire Marshal Edward Paulk said his department has finished investigating the scene, but must do further research and wait for the results of medical tests to close the case. Until the department finishes its research, he said, the cause of the blaze will be undetermined.

“We can’t close anything until we get all of the facts of the case,” Paulk said.

Calhoun County Coroner Pat Brown over the weekend identified smoke inhalation as the cause of death and said Korbyn Stitts died shortly after the blaze began.

Piedmont Rescue Squad Chief Philip Winkles acted as a deputy coroner the night of the fire. He said authorities have not determined the official cause of death.

Piedmont Fire Chief Mike Ledbetter said though parts of the house are still standing, almost all of it was damaged by heat or smoke.

“There was a lot of damage to the structure,” Ledbetter said. “The evidence that remains has been examined thoroughly.”

The homeowner, Drusilla Fife, and her four grandchildren were in the house when the fire ignited, Ledbetter said. By time firefighters arrived shortly after 8 p.m., flames were visible, he said.

“She told us that the fire grew too fast,” Ledbetter said. “They couldn’t get to the back bedroom because of the fire.”

Shortly after firefighters arrived, they went inside to find the child, though none were able to reach him alive.

One firefighter received burns through his thermal equipment. The injured firefighter was back at work Monday, Ledbetter said.

He said many of the Piedmont firefighters had never been at the scene of a fire fatality before Friday night.

“We have a lot of guys who have young kids of their own at home,” Ledbetter said. “The circumstances were beyond our control.”

Counselors who specialize in public safety response will be in Piedmont late this week or early next week to talk about what the firefighters saw and experienced, Ledbetter said.

“We’re trained to to a job, we did it to the best of our ability,” Ledbetter said. “The conditions just didn’t allow us to have the most favorable outcome, which would have been the successful rescue of the child.”

Firefighters were able to connect to two hydrants to fight the fire and battled the blaze until after midnight, Ledbetter said. They worked Saturday to secure the scene and begin a routine investigation into the cause of the fire.

The Piedmont Benevolence Center and the Calhoun-Cleburne Chapter of the American Red Cross are partnering to help the family. Heather Lamey, director of the Benevolence Center, said some community members and businesses are also contributing.

To offer additional help, contact the Piedmont Benevolence Center at 256-447-2220.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.

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