LANCER — Prestonsburg Fire Chief Bobby Carpenter found himself in a familiar situation, but in an unfamiliar role, as he watched his home go up in flames Thursday night.
Carpenter had just returned home from a rescue squad meeting and delivered some dinner to his son, when he went next door to visit his father. Moments later, his son came running, saying, “The house is on fire.”
Carpenter called 911 to report the fire, then donned his fire gear and began to get to work, just as he would any other fire. He first rescued his dogs from the home, and by that time, the fire engines had begun to arrive.
Carpenter said he was in “chief mode” initially, as he busied himself with helping his fellow firefighters begin the work of putting out the blaze. But after someone asked him if there was any way to help and he asked that person to call his wife to tell her the house was on fire, he said the “stress and excitement” of the situation became too much for him.
“As soon as I said those words, ‘The house is on fire,’ it hit me,” Carpenter said.
The chief was checked at the scene and it was found his blood pressure had skyrocketed to 186/164. He was then taken to Highlands Regional Medical Center as a precaution, but later released.
Carpenter said the home was a total loss and his family lost “about 75 percent of all that we owned.”
While Carpenter typically inspects the remains of house fires in the city to determine a cause, Paintsville Fire Chief Bob Dixon was called in to inspect Carpenter’s home, to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Dixon said Tuesday that he traced the origin of the fire to an electrical problem in the attic, where a wire had shorted out and set up a condition he termed “carbon tracking.”
“The heat that develops from the short is not enough to cause it to catch fire, but it does burn a little bit and slowly turns the area around it into carbon,” Dixon explained. “Over time, there is no wood left. It all burns to carbon and becomes flammable.”
Dixon said it appeared to him that the suspect wiring was “very old.”
Based on his investigation, Dixon ruled the fire as accidental.
Carpenter bought the house in 2001 and said that, other than a single electrical outlet that had shorted out in 2002, he had never had any electrical problems in the house. He said the wiring that caused the fire was installed when the house was built, years before he moved in.
Carpenter also noted that an insurance fire reconstruction specialist and an electrical engineer had inspected the home Monday and came to the same conclusion as Dixon.