By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
Tragedy struck a Williamsburg family early Friday morning after a house fire claimed the life of a grandmother of seven.
Pam Chinn, 52, died in the process of escaping her Old Corbin Pike Road home.
According to her daughter, Ann Chapman, who lives down the road from the home, a space heater triggered the blaze.
“They’re saying it (started) with a space heater that was in the back room,” Chapman said.
Williamsburg Fire and Rescue Chief James Privett confirmed that was the fire’s origin.
Chapman said the state fire marshal explained the heater fire may have caused a gas line close to the heater to rupture.
“The gas was not on but the line was close (to the heater),” a teary-eyed Chapman explained. “And I guess it just exploded.”
She said her father, Ronnie Chinn, was also in the home at the time of the blaze.
“Mom woke Dad up,” Chapman said. “And Dad left — he got out and was trying to find a water hose to spray on the fire, (but) by then he was already choking and coughing from the smoke in his lungs.”
Her brother, Dustin Chapman, lives across the street.
“It was about 2 o’clock,” he said. “And I heard Dad hollering for Mom, saying ‘Pam, put your pants on,’ and he ran out the door.”
Both he and his father desperately tried to save Pam Chinn.
“We both tried to get inside, but there was too much smoke,” he said. “We got to the hallway but that was it.”
Dustin Chapman said he and his father went back outside to try to find hoses to extinguish the blaze.
“I kicked in the side door — then I went and got my truck and drove it through the garage door,” he said. “I couldn’t find a hose and didn’t find a ladder.”
That’s when he said they called 9-1-1.
“Four minutes later they were here,” he said. “And they (did) everything they could.”
The fire destroyed the residence, and burned a vehicle and a storage building behind the home, according to Dustin Chapman.
Once firefighters had the fire under control, they were able to remove Pam Chinn from the home.
“They found her in the bathroom,” Dustin Chapman said. “The water was running.”
He said his father rushed out of the residence after learning of the fire. “He told me she woke him up — and he thought she was behind him,” he said.
They believe Pam Chinn was trying to get a wet towel to escape from the blaze.
“But she just collapsed,” he added.
Ronnie Chinn was treated at the scene — he was not hospitalized, according to Dustin Chapman.
“He’s in shock still,” he said.
“Disbelief,” Ann Chapman added.
“There’s so many ‘what ifs,’” Dustin Chapman said. “What if we did this, or what if we did that, or what if she did this — it’s hard.”
This is not the first time tragedy struck the family. Dustin Chapman said that in 2005, his brother, Wesley Chapman, and two of his children were killed in a car crash in Florida.
“We’ve gone through so much,” Ann Chapman said. “Just tragedy after tragedy.”
The next step?
Family members gathered at the home Friday afternoon to start the painful process of salvaging belongings.
“She stored her old pictures in suitcases,” Ann Chapman said. “That’s what saved those.”
She added that while the main floor was virtually destroyed, the basement of the home was relatively unharmed.
“We’re going to move forward,” Dustin Chapman said. “That’s all you can do.”
Chief Privett said they got the call a little after 2 a.m.
“We got there just after 2 and we were at the scene ‘til 8-8:30 this morning,” Privett said Friday.
He said two tanker trucks and 15 firefighters battled the blaze.
“I commend (them) for doing a good job,” Privett said. “They did everything they could to try to get to her — they really worked hard.”
Whitley EMS and members of the Emlyn Volunteer Fire and Rescue department were also on hand to assist.
“It’s a tragedy,” Privett said. “I’ve known them for many a year.”
Grandmother’s life claimed Friday in Williamsburg
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