At 3:31 this afternoon, Gina Gustafson was away from her house on Seaman Trail East in Seminole Woods, when her young daughter, who was with her, got a call from her girlfriend. A house was on fire on their street. At first, Gustafson, who just moved to Palm Coast from Connecticut in September, thought it was her house, at 13 Seaman Trail East.
It was the house next door, Number 15, a 2,000-square foot, one-level house, valued this year at $115,000, and belonging to Jeff and Suzanne Williams, two of whose children (two sons–a teenager and a 7 year old) live at the house. No one was home when the fire started, Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito originally thought. The mother and both children were at the house, as it turned out.
It was a matter of minutes when firefighters arrived at the scene.
Brief Video of the Fire at Its Height[media id=291 width=350 height=250]
“We don’t know the cause,” Petito, who was at the scene, said. “When we got here the whole roof was on fire already. Engine 92 was first here, and they said they had full fire on the roof, and they called what we call a defensive tactic, it means nobody goes inside because the roof has already collapsed, and basically we get as many hose lines going as we can and try to keep the fire to a single house.”
Gustafson’s house is the only one adjacent to the Williams’s, to the east. Wooded lots extend on both sides of the pair of houses, and in back them, woods stretch along a canal. Across the street, there’s a two-level house that belongs to an electrician. None of those neighboring houses appeared to be in any danger as firefighters doused the burning structure in water from several directions, including a tower.
When the firefighters got to the scene, two children’s bicycles were still leaning against the garage door as flames charred it from inside. The bikes were moved into the grass across the street, and firefighters went to work, knocking down the garage door with a hatchet.
Some neighbors said the homeowners had a dog and two cats. All three pets were saved. Jeff Williams, who was also at the scene, taking pictures of his house with his cell phone, was understandably in no mood to answer questions. The fire chief had not yet spoken to him. Nor was the fire marshal yet at the scene, but was later seen investigating the wreckage. At 4:17 p.m., flames could still be seen leaping past the carcass of the roof even as jets of water from two water-canons poured from above. Black smoke rose in a nearly straight column above the house, the air being still, extremely muggy, and threatening of more storms.
“Whatever fire is there we try to knock it down, make sure everybody is safe while we’re doing it,” Petito said. “We’re going to continue to put water on it until the fire is totally out, until it’s not smoking anymore so we don’t get a re-kindle, and then the fire marshal will come and do an inspection, try to find out what happened.”
Petito said the area has been prone to fires started by lightning. But for residents of Seminole Woods, rain has generally meant a sigh of relief from the wildfires that coursed through the area last year, and that threatened to do so again this year, after a dry spring, until heavy rains eliminated the danger of another bad wildfire season.
Gustafson stood across the street with her daughter, watching her neighbor’s house burn and worrying about her own, a mere few feet from the flames. “A little too much excitement for me,” she said.
Flagler County Fire Rescue was in command–with Capt. Jamey Burnsed in command of the scene–assisted by the Palm Coast Fire Department, the Palm Coast Fire Police, the Flagler Beach Fire Department and the Bunnell Volunteer Fire Department. Seaman Trail East was closed this afternoon as crews remain at the scene, working.
A little after 5 p.m., when the scene was fully under control–and only smoke rose from parts of the house–Burnsed said the Palm Coast fire marshal had “a couple of theories” about the origins of the fire, but nothing solid yet. Neighbors who had spoken to one of the Williamses said a phone charger in the garage may have been an issue. As firefighters were wrapping up the scene, Gustafson and her child, along with one of the Williams children–the older son–and others, were in the garage of the house across the street, going through soaked family photo albums that had been salvaged. To preserve what they could of the pictures, they were taking them out of their cellophaned sleeves to dry them and save them from being glued together.
Feel awful for our new Palm Coast neighbors. Our thoughts & prayers are with you as you recover from one hellacious afternoon.
And once again, thank you firefighters for another amazing job…even saving the family’s pets. Have such huge confidence in all of our Emergency Services crews. Thank you for the heroic work you do every day on our behalf.
Thank god that the Williams family got out safely. God bless and thank you to the firefighters.
You just never know when something like this hits out of the blue.
One should be tankful for peaceful and uneventful days – boring days.
My heart goes out to the Williams family, and I hope that they have a place to stay
while this situation is worked out.
We’ll be watching for further developments to this story.
The Truth says
I too have a few theories on how this fire may have started, but I’ll let those investigating it figure that one out.
Regardless, I’m glad to see everyone is safe and sound and none of the neighbors houses were affected. Great job, as always, to our great fire department.
Looks like the roof suffered the most damage..probably lightning started a fire in the attic. Hopefully the family has friends who can take them in.
As usual the Flagler Fire Department, the constant professionals, were quickly on the scene taking care of business. Way to go guys!
Glad that the pets were saved!!! Family intact!
Swell job firefighters!
Honestly, we have superb emergency services in Palm Coast – simply great people.
I knock Palm Coast all the time, but darned if I ever saw paramedics, police and firefighters
like we have here. Heroism on tap.
A BIG “THANK YOU” to all of these outstanding civil servants.
Mitzi Gee says
I am going to try to collect some clothing for this family and school supplies. I have posted it on my Facebook and am hoping to get some good responses. I feel terrible for this family, I cannot imagine losing everything like that. :(
And thank you to all our brave fire fighters, police and paramedics. We’re lucky to have them!
I can’t imagine anyone that has crossed paths with Jeff at some point in life that does not think highly of him. It is a damn shame for something like this to happen to such a nice, loving, and honest man with such great character and beautiful family.
I agree, he’s my cousin and he’s a great guy! Any help for their kids and them while they prepare for school and life after this tradgedy, will be so appreciated!
Brian Simonis says
This is absolutely horrible. This family is a good decent family that things like this just should not happen to. I cannot put this into words.
Friend of Jeff says
I have had the pleasure of knowing Jeff for many years. I am a pool league operator and Jeff has been a player or Captain. Our league is currently putting a fund raiser for this weekend in support of Jeff and his family. I will post back with details later today.
If someone can get sizes for the teenager I might have some clothes that would fit him.
Lynnette Boucher says
Young mans small shirts 28×32 pants or 16/18
Patricia Alexander says
My husband works with Jeff and I have reached out to all my fb family and friends and I am trying to get clothing, gift cards for all needs, school supplies. I should have backpacks and some supplies for both boys. I already have people sending me messages to help them out with all sorts of things and I will do so as long as there is the need.
Patricia, I’d like to donate some items as well. Can you tell me how, where, when, etc? Also, a friend of mine works with Suzanne and wants to help. Can we set up something on Facebook under Fundrazr? People can donate what they can=- $5- $100, etc… I know a lot of people on the SwipSwap community would like to donate as well!!!
Patricia Alexander says
I am not sure how to set up the Fundrazr and I am not on Swipswap ever but if you would like you can send me a friend request on fb and let me know what it is for and I can get with you about where to send the items. Find me on fb as Patricia Comeau Alexander.
Friend of Jeff says
Our Flagler County Billiard Congress of America pool league have planned to show our support for Jeff and his family this Saturday. At the Beer House in Bunnell a pool tournament will begin at 5 pm. At 9 pm a poker tournament will begin. Their will be great food available and the proceeds will be a help.
I used to run the Flagler BCA League. Thank you for supporting my nephew and his family. I wish I was closer to be able to do something like the tournaments to help them. I know they have been very touched by the out pour of kindness they have received from everyone. He and Suzanne are both great people that didn’t deserve this horrible tragedy. Thank you and Hi and thank you to all my BCA friends!!