THOMSON - The first day the new North Columbia Fire Departments merged operations as a single unit was not a quiet one.
Wednesday afternoon, the former departments of Leah, Winfield and Appling, were called out to help extinguish two house fires in McDuffie County that left two people dead.
"They had everything in their whole fire district depleted," Columbia County Emergency Services Division Director Pam Tucker said. "All their resources were in McDuffie County, helping with the fires."
About 2:30 p.m., firefighters were called to a mobile home on Jean Road near the McDuffie and Columbia county line. Officials said the fire started in a nearby salvage yard filled with cars, golf carts and other vehicles surrounding the home.
The bodies of two people were found inside the home - 28-year-old Tommy Jones, who was wheelchair-bound, and his caretaker, 34-year-old Sheryl Ann Swane, according to McDuffie County Fire Chief Bruce Tanner.
The Martinez Fire Department also was called to help the McDuffie County and North Columbia units.
While firefighters were on their way to the Jean Road fire, they were flagged down to the singlewide mobile home on Smith Crawford Road, where the home and a camper parked in front of it were on fire. Both were destroyed in the blaze, but no one was inside at the time.
While all of North Columbia's trucks and equipment, which still bear the names of the former units, were in use in McDuffie County, the Martinez Fire Department was called out to cover the expansive North Columbia fire district.
On paper, North Columbia already has been incorporated as a single unit. Listed as North Columbia Fire & Rescue Inc. with the state, the merger was endorsed last year by the three volunteer departments to help pool resources and manpower.
The Martinez Fire Department will take over dispatching duties for the new group May 1. The county's 911 center now handles the calls.
As of Thursday, fire investigators had not determined a cause for either blaze, but officials said the two were unrelated.
Evans resident Robert Hutchinson, who owns the Smith Crawford Road property, said he and his wife left the mobile home Wednesday afternoon to walk around the corner to see the Jean Road fire. Less than 10 minutes later, they received a phone call from a neighbor letting them know their property also was on fire.
Hutchinson said he was at the home, cleaning it out after its tenants were evicted Tuesday. He said he had another buyer lined up for the property and had his camper in front of the home for the day as they cleaned.
"We went around the corner," he said, "came back, and it was going."
McDuffie Mirror writers Kristopher Wells and Jason B. Smith contributed to this article.
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