FLORENCE — By the time Shirley Hensley and her family scrambled out of their smoke-filled rental house on St. Peter Street, windows were exploding from the heat of the fire.
Hensley, along with her husband, sister, son and 3-year-old grandson, Bryson Gallagher, shivered in a cold wind under an unsettled gray sky early Tuesday afternoon while firefighters probed the smoldering house. Though no one was injured, they were clearly shaken by their ordeal.
“We only got two things out of the house,” Hensley said.
“All of our (Christmas) decorations and everything else is gone.”
She said the fire apparently started in a bedroom closet and quickly spread when the heating system cycled on and spread smoke through the house.
The Florence Fire Department got the call at 12:57 p.m. and responded with four engine companies and a rescue unit, Battalion Chief Terry Willett said.
Flames were visible from the rear of the house when they arrived, he said, but the fire was quickly brought under control.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Willett said.
Hensley said she was in the kitchen when her sister said she smelled something funny, as if Bryson had dropped a crayon down a heating vent. Hensley said the overhead vent in the kitchen came on and smoke began to fill the room.
“I could hear something crackling,” she said. “I looked in the bedroom and flames were coming out of the closet door. When the fan in the roof kicked in, it was like an inferno.”
Hensley said she grabbed a fire extinguisher in an attempt to put out the flames, but it would not work.
“When we got out and walked to the house next door, the bedroom windows blew out,” she said.
Bryson was wrapped snuggly in a quilt in the arms of his mother, Mindy Jacobs, as he watched firefighters. He clutched a stuffed plush toy of a reindeer wearing a Santa cap.
Asked if the 3-year-old was terrified by the fire, his grandmother said he was remarkably calm.
“He just went along with what we wanted him to do,” Hensley said. “He’s usually very active, but this is the quietest he’s ever been.”
The Florence Fire Department arranged for the family to stay overnight in a local motel through the assistance of the Salvation Army.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.