A family of four was burned out of its home in Leflore County on Tuesday morning in a situation made worse by problems with calling 911 from a cellphone.
Smoke from the fire at 4518 County Road 89, just north of Teoc Road and east of Mississippi 7, was first noticed mid-morning by a cousin of the Clark family, who had already left the house for school and work.
The cousin called owner Wayne Clark, a contractor who was working in Greenwood, and he rushed back to his home.
When he saw the fire, Clark said, he dialed 911 on his cellphone and gave the dispatcher his address on County Road 89. But because he was on his cellphone and his house is only a few hundred yards from the Carroll County line, Clark’s call was routed to 911 dispatch in Carroll County.
The dispatcher sent firefighters to Carroll County Road 89 while Clark, his cousin and a couple of other men used garden hoses to try to put out the fire, which at that time appeared confined to a wall in his daughter’s bedroom, Clark said.
When no fire engine had arrived a half-hour after his call, Clark called back and the dispatcher said trucks had been sent to County Road 89 and didn’t find a fire.
After a few comments back and forth, Clark told the dispatcher he was in Leflore County, and his call was routed to a dispatcher there.
Clark said he and his cousin had broken a window into the bedroom where the fire originated in an effort to get water on the blaze.
A firefighter later said that is a common mistake many people make, and the open window likely fueled the fire with more oxygen. Clark said he and his cousin had thought they had the fire out a few times, only to see it come back and spread.
A short time later, a fire engine and a tanker truck arrived from the Money Volunteer Fire Department station near the Leflore County Civic Center on Mississippi 7. Leflore County Fire Coordinator Bobby Norwood said he went to another Money station and picked up an additional tanker in case more water was needed and drove it to the fire. There are no fire hydrants in the area where the house was located.
Five firefighters from the Money Volunteer Fire Department were joined by three from the Carroll County Volunteer Fire Department, and they put water on the fire with two hoses. Three members of the Greenwood Fire Department answered a call for assistance and transferred the water from their truck into the Money engine to put on the fire.
Unfortunately, the house showed extensive damage Wednesday, with the roof burned through and walls burned down in most of the structure.
Norwood said the biggest factor in the fire causing so much damage was the time wasted by having the call routed to Carroll County.
Norwood said a call from a cellphone connects with the nearest cell tower, and because of the location of the house, that tower was probably in Carroll County. The 911 system is built to route calls from cell towers to the nearest emergency services dispatcher in the county in which the tower is located, so it went to the Carroll County dispatcher.
“It is an issue we’ve been dealing with for years,” Norwood said. “It is a problem.”
He said people calling 911 are frequently excited and perhaps not as clear as they could be, which likely worsened the confusion over the location.
Norwood said the cellphone problem could have been overcome if the house had been equipped with a home monitoring fire alarm system. Such systems allow the input of information on the exact location of the house and automatically transfer that information to 911 dispatchers when the alarm is activated.
Clark said it was fortunate that no one was hurt in the fire. He was expecting insurance inspectors to arrive at his house Thursday, but the contractor said, “We will rebuild.” While they wait, the family has moved into a mother-in-law house he had built on his property a few years ago and into the family RV.
•Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or email@example.com.