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Edwards family narrowly escapes as early morning fire destroys house


EDWARDS — Firefighters continued to battle a house fire Tuesday 14 hours after it cost an Edwards family nearly everything but their lives.

Edwards Volunteer Fire Department and eight other companies from as far as Harrisville and Star Lake were called to 19 Maple Ave. at 2:15 a.m. to fight the blaze.

The family renting the home, Brandon R. Durham, 21, his girlfriend, Annabelle E. Royce, 19, and their 3-year-old and 3-month-old children, awoke to smoke and fled.

“They were able to escape safely, but they woke up choking on smoke,” Edwards Fire Chief Richard Thornton said. “They were lucky, especially with the 3-month-old.”

There were no injuries, but the house was destroyed and most of the family’s possessions were lost. The cause of the fire is believed to be related to a recently installed wood furnace, according to Mr. Thornton and St. Lawrence County fire investigators.

Mr. Durham said he and Ms. Royce were awakened at the same time in their second-floor bedroom to a smoke-filled house.

“We just jumped out of bed, grabbed the kids and ran out,” Mr. Durham said. “All I wanted was my family, my dog and my guns.”

Firefighters retrieved his two gun safes, which held $2,000 worth of firearms, and the couple’s cellphones. The two ran across their driveway to Ms. Royce’s parents’ house and called 911. Ms. Royce’s father, Roger Royce, ran to the burning house to get the couple’s 4-year-old pit bull, Rocky.

“I think he was afraid because of all the yelling and screaming, so my dad had to go back to the house and get him,” Ms. Royce said. “He finally came out the back door safely after my dad called and whistled to him.”

Ms. Royce said no flames were initially seen, but as their bare feet hit the first floor, they could feel the heat from the fire in the basement.

“Not even 10 minutes later you could see the orange glow in the dining room on the first floor,” Ms. Royce said. “I just remember going out of the house unprepared. It happened so fast, you didn’t have time to think; you just had to react.”

The fire burned through the day, and firefighters were still battling it 14 hours after it was reported.

Mr. Thornton said the house is brick-lined and double-roofed, adding to the challenge of putting the fire out.

“We couldn’t do an exterior attack. We had to go in through the windows,” Mr. Thornton said. “The house is still smoldering. It just doesn’t want to go out.”

The fire was in the chimney and spread into the walls, Mr. Thornton said.

“We thought the fire was pretty much under control, where smoke was looking more like steam, but I think [the house] had so much insulation that it wasn’t showing the heat, and as soon as it got air it took right off,” he said.

Frigid temperatures were also a challenge for firefighters. About 4:30 p.m. the house still had one room burning. The chief said the building would have been leveled to help extinguish the blaze, but below-zero temperatures kept the village excavator from starting.

“So we are just going to let it burn down so we can get it out,” Mr. Thornton said. “The insurance company gave us the OK to do whatever we have to do to make it safe.”

He said the nearly 20-below weather created icy conditions for firefighters, causing some to slip and fall. No one was seriously hurt.

While the building was insured, Mr. Durham and Ms. Royce did not have renter’s insurance. The couple said they planned to buy the house, but now have to start over. They are staying with Mr. Royce in the meantime.

“We are going to have to wait it out and see what happens, but we are looking to rebuild our lives here in Edwards,” Ms. Royce said.

DeKalb Junction, Fine, Gouverneur, Harrisville, Hermon, Richville, Russell and Star Lake volunteer fire departments assisted.

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