Teens save home from burning in Itawamba County

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

FULTON – Daniel Jones, 17, of Fulton, flexed a thin arm – which he referred to as a “gun” – and kissed the pectoral bump, causing his buddies Phillip Swindle, 14, and Joe French, 15, to break into cacophonous laughter.
Jones’ mother, Tammy Gafford, offered a look that suggested shrugging and said, “They act like this all the time – constantly.”
As jocular as these three Itawamba Agricultural High School students are, they have also proven themselves resourceful in a pinch – perhaps a bit heroic, too. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago they managed to stop a neighbor’s house from burning to the ground.
It started with a walk along Lake Itawamba Road where the boys live.
“We were walking down the road going down to the lake, and we saw these kids running down the road, screaming,” Swindle explained. The movement drew the three boys’ attention to the home of Bertha Steele, who was attempting to pull a water hose to a broken basement window, from which dark smoke poured.
“She looked like she was struggling trying to pull the water hose around,” Jones said.

Helping hand
Jones, Swindle and French ran over to help, grabbing the hose from Steele and pulling it to the ground-level window. According to Swindle, who sprayed water into Steele’s burning basement, though the black smoke burned his eyes, he could still see flames licking upward, some reaching as high as the room’s ceiling.
Meanwhile, Jones and French dashed around the building to the carport area, into which the basement opened through a small door. French said he tested the door’s handle, which felt hot, so he wrapped his hand in his shirt and then elbowed it open.
“We were trying to open the door to see if there was any more fire,” French said. “We were trying to tell (Swindle) where the fire was so he could put it out.”
When the door finally cracked open, smoke came pouring out into the carport, enveloping the two friends.
“It just poured out. It was pitch black coming out of there. You couldn’t see inside the house at all,” Jones said.
“All I could see was smoke,” French added.
When asked if they had considered the possibility of getting injured by the flames, the three friends laughed and all spoke at once.
“The one thing on all our minds was putting out the fire,” French said.
“It was, like, a big adrenaline rush,” Jones added.
“I felt like I could punch a T-Rex,” Swindle said.
According to the three friends, they spent 10 to 15 minutes fighting the fire – Swindle spraying water through the window while Jones and French directed his aim – before volunteer firefighters arrived on the scene. By then, the fire had largely died down.
According to Gary Gough, one of the firefighters who arrived on the scene, the three friends likely saved Steele’s home.
“If those boys hadn’t been there working with that water hose I don’t think that house would be standing there today,” Gough said. “They did a good job.”
The house caught fire when one of Steele’s great-grandchildren accidentally dropped a candle onto some clothes, authorities said. Gough said it is fortunate that no one was injured or the home lost.
Gafford grinned widely as she looked at her son and his friends.
“I’m quite proud of them,” she said, releasing a small sigh as they began to cut up again. “There’s a lot of negative info out there about teens … You don’t see kids this young doing something like this everyday, so when you do, I think they should be commended. Let the rest of the kids out there know there’s nothing wrong with doing something for other people.”
“We’re like superheros now,” one said. It was hard to determine who amid all the laughter. Gafford just smiled and shook her head.
Contact Adam Armour at (662) 862-3141 or adam.armour@itawamba360.com or visit his blog at itawamba360.com.