Marine, dog escape Beaufort house fire caused by Christmas tree

rlurye@islandpacket.comJanuary 3, 2014 

A smoke detector and a nipping dog woke a Beaufort Marine late Thursday, likely saving his life and the dog's after his Christmas tree caught on fire.

Cpl. David Ingles, 22, and his Boston terrier, Hammer, were asleep in their one-story Trask Farm Road home when he heard what he later realized was a window shattering from the heat of the fire.

"It kind of startled me in my sleep, but I didn't think much of it because the wind was blowing so bad outside," said Ingles, who is stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. "Then Hammer bit me, and the alarm went off.

"When I opened my eyes, it was like a black cloud over me."

So much smoke had filled the home that Ingles had to crawl on the floor to get outside. Once firefighters arrived, they had the flames under control in about 5 minutes and extinguished in half an hour, said Daniel Byrne, spokesman for the Burton Fire District.

The Marine and his dog were uninjured, Byrne said.

"This guy is very much lucky to be alive," Byrne said. "I firmly believe if he didn't have a smoke detector, we would have had a fire fatality last night."

Ingles agreed.

"If I hadn't woken up, I wouldn't be here," he said.

Much of Ingles' property was destroyed, and he cannot return to the house, which he was renting. The American Red Cross gave Ingles assistance for a hotel this weekend while he makes other arrangements, he said.

The owner of the home, John Keith, said he plans to repair the property.

The small "caretaker" house is about 100 years old, he said, and was on Ribaut Road before Keith renovated it about six years ago and moved it near his other Trask Farm Road property, a Civil War-era Victorian home that he uses for tours.

"It's definitely fixable," Keith, 74, said. "We'll clean, we'll repaint. That's all we can do."

A damage estimate was not available Friday morning. The fire was contained to the room where Ingles kept his Christmas tree, Byrne said.

Families should dispose of real trees when they dry out, he said, because they can become "explosive" if exposed to hot or sparking wires, power surges or open flames.

"At this point, the Christmas trees are getting dry even if you've been watering it since the day you put it in your house," he said. "It's just waiting for the smallest amount of spark, and it's going to go up."

Holiday-related incidents, especially Christmas tree fires, are relatively rare, representatives of several fire departments said. However, the potential always exists and public education continues every year, said Lee Levesque, spokesman for the Lady's Island Volunteer Fire Department.

Ingles advises others to heed the warning.

"When Christmas is over, take the tree down," he said.

Video: Christmas tree fire burns down Marine's home in Beaufort (1:17)

David Ingles, a Marine living in Beaufort, stands in the room of his rental home the afternoon of Jan. 3, 2014, where his Christmas tree caught on fire just before midnight. Ingles was asleep when the fire started and was woken by his 2-year-old Boston terrier named Hammer in time to get out. Delayna Earley

Dealing with the tree

All of the yard-waste bins at Beaufort County recycling centers are open for Christmas tree drop-off.

For more information and the locations of the county's 11 recycling centers, click here.

Other drop-off locations:

  • Hilton Head Island: Coligny Beach parking lot and vacant lot near intersection of U.S. 278 and Squire Pope Road.
  • Lady's Island: Barnwell Resources at 490 Brickyard Point Road South and Family Tree Christmas Tree Farm on Pleasant Point Road.
  • Beaufort: LCR Wood Waste and Recycling Center at 58 Chesapeake Road.
  • Ridgeland: Evergreen Recycling off S.C. 170 on Short Cut Road.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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