A fire on Dog Island destroyed a vacation home but hard work by firefighters saved an adjacent dwelling.
The house, at 802 Gulf Shore Drive, was the property of Frank Foley, of Georgia.
Deborah Jameson, a spokesman for the State Fire Marshal, said investigation of the fire is ongoing. She said the house, valued at about $250,000, was a total loss and the cause of the blaze still unknown.
Vinyl siding on an adjacent home received minor heat damage. No one was injured during the fire fight.
On the afternoon of March 6, travelers on US 98 became aware of a large fire on Dog Island. At Carrabelle Beach and along US 98, curious onlookers watched as a thick column of black smoke rose above the barrier island.
Lee Pravitz, a vacationing firefighter from Dover, Delaware, said flames were visible with the naked eye from the Ho Hum Trailer Park four miles east.
Dick Foss, chief of the Dog Island Volunteer Fire Department (DIVFD) said the two-story vacation home on pilings at 802 Gulfshore Drive was the source of the flames and smoke. The house was located in what residents call the “mountainous zone” of Dog Island where dunes rise up to 100 feet above sea level.
Foss said he received a call at about 3:15 p.m. and went to the firehouse to retrieve a 400-gallon tank truck. Dog Island firefighters also have a 1,000 gallon truck on hand.
He went straight to the scene where he was joined by five other island residents. Using the tank truck and a garden hose from a nearby house, they set to work to contain the flames. Foss said that in the high wind, he knew there was little chance of saving the burning house.
Four visitors to Dog Island helped with the firefight. Jerrica Gray, Kery Wilson, Chase Green and Caitlin Manners, all of Blue Ridge, Ga., were visiting full-time island residents Hazel and Harley Bell when the fire broke out.
Gray said she and her friends ran to the fire after the Bells received a telephone call warning them of the danger.
She said, when they first arrived, two men were already on the scene and a little white smoke was visible leaking from a window on the top floor but, within 40 minutes, the entire structure was engulfed in flames in spite of the fact that Wilson and Green mounted to the lower porch to wet down the exterior of the house.
Strong winds accelerated combustion, but Gray said, “The wind was really in our favor because it was blowing towards the Gulf and so it blew the fire away from the island and the other houses. If it had blown in the other direction, things might have been much worse. One time the wind shifted and whipped in from the west and that’s when the plants on the dunes all caught fire. I thought we were in trouble then.”
At about the same time volunteers were rushing to the Dog Island fire, Carrabelle Fire Chief Carl Whaley and a group of volunteers were responding to a wild fire on Timber Island. Whaley said when the firemen noticed the column of smoke on Dog Island, they thought they had been dispatched to the wrong location until they found a quarter-acre of grass burning near the Timber Island marina. Whaley said that fire was started by sparks from a welding torch and rapidly spread due to windy conditions.
After extinguishing the Timber Island blaze, Whaley and several Carrabelle firefighters got a ride to Dog Island with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers and joined in fighting the house fire which by then involved about a tenth of an acre of woods as well.
Whaley said the house had collapsed by the time he arrived. He complimented the Dog Island firefighters on containing the blaze in the high wind.
FWC brought firefighting equipment to the Timber Island boat ramp for possible deployment, but it was not used.
Working together, the volunteers from Dog Island and Carrabelle managed to contain the flames. Foss said after the rest of the house collapsed, the pilings remained standing, engulfed in an inferno. The firefighters poured water on them but the extreme heat made work at close quarters difficult. Eventually, firefighters were able to approach the pilings and cut them down with a chainsaw.
About 4:30 p.m., a helicopter belonging to the Florida Forestry Service arrived on the scene carrying a refillable bucket and dumped 15 to 20 loads of water from the Gulf onto the blaze, finally extinguishing it.
Foss said his crew continued to mop up smoldering remnants of the fire until after 6:30 p.m. He said a representative of the State Fire Marshall’s office visited the remains of the house at about 7 p.m.