By Nathan Baker
Billy Harding and his step-daughter Casey Murphy fought against Carter County Sheriff’s Deputies Monday afternoon to try to enter the smoking house at 127 Zeb Grindstaff Road, not realizing that they were risking their own lives by trying to save three pets from the burning home.
As volunteer firefighters from four separate county departments were braving the searing heat and heavy smoke pouring from the two-story home, Murphy was still visibly shaken by the encounter and by the likely loss of three cats that were believed to be trapped inside the home owned by her parents, Billy and Vickie Harding.
“A dog got out, but the cats were still in there,” she said from the sloping lawn in front of the house. “I just couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t get it out.”
Murphy said she and her two boys were in the living room of the home near 5:30 p.m. when they heard what sounded like a small explosion from the attached garage.
She went to investigate the noise and found smoke and flames.
“I tried to put it out with a hose, but nothing I did helped,” Murphy said.
Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jason Shaw said the house was fully engulfed in flames when the first truck arrived.
Firefighters quickly began dousing the conflagration with massive amounts of water, but were concerned about the containers of fuel that were reported in the garage.
The fire apparently spread from the garage, through the first floor and into the second, where Shaw said the firefighters found it difficult to spray it under the metal roof.
“It appears that the metal roof was put down on top of the old shingles,” the chief said. “So it made it even harder for us to get up under there with the hoses.”
Shaw said the family pets were likely a tragic loss, but said it was too risky to send personnel into harm’s way to search for them.
“We made sure there were no people inside and then fought it from the outside,” he said. “We can’t go in to look for animals when there are burning pieces of the ceiling falling down on us. It’s just not worth it.”