Tift County -- Tifton Firefighters have worked tirelessly over the past week responding to dozens of calls, several that have resulted in major house fires.
This afternoon they responded to a call about a possible gas leak at a Tri-County Road home. Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm, but that wasn't the case at a mobile home on East Golden Road.
They received the call about 5:30 this morning. The fire gutted the unit resulting in a total loss. Officials say the blaze started because an electric heater was too close to the bed.
Yesterday afternoon, another mobile home on Tifton-El Dorado Road caught fire. Firefighters have not yet determined the cause of that fire. No one was hurt in either fire.
Though everyone survived the fires, two families are homeless. They are now relying on family, friends, and donations from the community to get them through what turned into a painful Christmas season.
A charred, soggy structure is all that's left of Barbara Mills' East Golden Road mobile home. Her two teen-aged daughters and 16-month-old grandson were asleep inside when the oldest woke up in a smoke-filled room. "When I got up I was trying to get to the back bedroom and I was gagging and I could hardly get to the back bedroom," says Mills' daughter Jackie Laster.
She crawled to the next room to wake up the rest of the family, ran outside, and called 911 from her cell phone. Though the fire resulted in a total loss the family calls their survival a blessing. "When I dot down here the house was in flames," says Mills' mother Christine Harris.
"A fire like this. Who would come out alive if it wasn't for God. So it was by God's grace and mercy that they came out alive, and I thank God for it."
"Thank the Lord none of our family was in there. Everything else is just material it can be replaced," says Billy Taylor.
Billy and Lynn Taylor are also counting their blessings. Their mobile home was gutted by fire less than 24 hours before Mills'.
A friend alerted him about the blaze while he was a work. 1"I thought he was joking around and he told me no. He said 'Let's get in the car and go.' By the time we got there. it was just gone," Taylor says.
The Red Cross provided them with temporary shelter in a hotel, some food, and a few clothes. Still with three small children, 3, 5, and 7, having a merry Christmas will be difficult.
"They just know the house burnt down and that's it. The only thing they keep asking is when we're going home," Taylor says.
Both families lost most of what they had planned to purchase their children for Christmas, now they're hoping their community will lend a helping hand. "We lost everything. We appreciate anything anybody ever does," says Taylor.
"If anyone has any funds, or clothing, or food we do appreciate it," Harris says.
Whether the donations flow in or not, the families say they've already received the best gift ever this season, the gift of life.
The Coastal Plains Red Cross Chapter in Tifton has already received dozens of donations for both families as well as another family of ten whose house burned last week. Anyone who would like to help should call 229-382-3133.