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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6, 2007
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Firefighters from Rock Creek, Oden Ridge and Florette fought the blaze from about 9:30 a.m. Monday to after 1 a.m. Tuesday.
Courtesy photo by Dillon Whitney
Firefighters from Rock Creek, Oden Ridge and Florette fought the blaze from about 9:30 a.m. Monday to after 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Fire guts Rock Creek home
Family displaced;
lightning may be cause

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

ROCK CREEK — Donnie Ozbolt has fond memories of the old one-story house at 2275 Lawrence Cove Road that fire destroyed Monday night.

He was born there Aug. 14, 1933, and lives only about a mile away, on Lawrence Cove Road.

"I knew something had happened but didn't know it was a fire up there until this morning," he said. "It makes you feel sad."

Ozbolt, 73, said the house is about three miles from the Rock Creek Road exit at Alabama 67 and about five miles south of Brewer High School. Rock Creek turns into Lawrence Cove Road.

Teresa Bennett, a Rock Creek firefighter, said her department, with assistance from Oden Ridge and Florette, fought the fire from about 9:30 p.m. until after 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Bennett said a thunderstorm moved through the area about the time of the fire. She said judging from neighbors' reports, it is likely that lightning struck the dwelling.

"From the sound and how close it seemed, at least three people thought lightning had hit their house," Bennett said. "One woman said the jolt was so strong that her daughter's mobile home shook from it. In a matter of minutes, they were aware which house was on fire."

Bennett said rain was falling when she arrived but that it lasted only a short time. She said the heavy rain had already moved through and lasted only a few minutes.

The old house, which Ozbolt said is at least 100 years old, refused to go easily. Bennett said the blaze rekindled and Rock Creek answered the call again at 6:50 a.m. Tuesday.

"We cleared up at 8:39 a.m.," she said, "with one room partially standing."

Ozbolt said his father, Frank Ozbolt, came to America from Yugoslavia in 1913, passing through Ellis Island.

"People called him Little Frank," Donnie Ozbolt said, "because another man named Frank lived beside us. They called him Big Frank."

Donnie Ozbolt said the L-shaped house had a tin roof and a porch across the front, down one side and across the back.

"There was a well on the back porch," he said. "Dad always kept his shaving equipment there and shaved there."

Wine in cellar

He recalls a cellar under the kitchen his parents used for storing canned goods to keep them from freezing during the winter and for wine.

"You might imagine that being from the old country, my dad liked wine," he said. "You had to enter the cellar from the outside. He had an old homemade door with tin on it that you had to lift and go down steps. The cellar was made of concrete."

Ozbolt also recalls an old crank telephone that once hung in the hallway at the front entrance.

"My parents had it put it in," he said. "The telephone exchange was at Eva. That was before my time."

Ozbolt, who had two brothers and three sisters, said he and his brother Bobby took down the phone and tore it apart, using the parts to play with.

Ozbolt said he and his father moved to Cleveland in 1951 and that his mother joined them later.

"I returned in 1966," he said. "Dad had sold the old home in 1954 to Jimmy Johnson."

Daniela Douthit said her mother, Rebecca Johnson, lived in the house with her son, David Knox, his wife, Janna, and their three sons, David Jacob, 17, Zachary, 10, and Eli, who turned 7 on Tuesday. Rebecca Johnson is Jimmy Johnson's daughter-in-law.

"I also live on Lawrence Cove Road, about two miles from Mother's house," Douthit said. "They stayed with us Monday night. David and Janna and their children are now at Janna's mother's house in Cullman."

Douthit said the family is receiving assistance from the American Red Cross. She said a fund has been set up at Merchant's Bank under Knox Family Relief Account because the family has no insurance. People who would like to contribute may do so by sending a check to 900 Second Ave. S.W., Cullman, AL 35055.

Lightning strike

Late Tuesday night, Douthit supported the lighting-strike theory. She said a pecan tree a few feet from the porch "had the lightning trail from one of the top branches all the way to the ground."

She said that apparently, the lighting jumped from the tree and got into the electrical system in the house.

"They heard a big boom, which could have been the transformer blowing up, and Eli was knocked off his feet. Simultaneously, the power went out and the TV in the dining room, that David Jacob was watching, exploded, throwing glass on him," Douthit said. "Mother, Janna, Eli and Zach were in the living room and flames came out of the wall outlet."

Some of the firefighters said they, too, were sentimental about the house and fought hard in an effort to contain the blaze.

Bennett, a lifelong resident of Rock Creek, said she had been in the house as a child, and Charles Ford, assistant chief at Oden Ridge, said his family farmed land across the road.

"The house is at least 100 years old because it was there long before I came along, and I'm 69," he said. "I visited in the house a lot of times. Some of my distant kin once lived there."

'Like a kindling fire'

Ford, who operated a pumper truck, said the cellar "was full of stuff and it was like a kindling fire. We like to have never got it beaten down. They were shuttling water into my truck and pumping off my truck. They filled my truck at least 10 times. It holds 1,000 gallons."

He said three tanker trucks shuttled water. He said Rock Creek had two pumpers on the scene and Oden Ridge had another.

"I believe there were five firefighters from Florette and five from my department," Ford said, "and 11 from Rock Creek."

Fire Chief Alan Kirby of Florette said the house "was fully involved when they called us. We shuttled water and did all we could."

Bennett said she thanks the other departments for their efforts.

"We work together when we have a structure fire," she said. "We need all the help we can get out here because we don't have hydrants everywhere."

Bennett's husband, Wayne, is Rock Creek's fire chief, but he was working a swing shift and missed the action.

How to help

A fund has been set up at Merchant's Bank under Knox Family Relief Account because the family has no insurance. People who would like to contribute may send checks to 900 Second Ave. S.W., Cullman, AL 35055.

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