By CHRIS MENEES
South Fulton is once again drawing national attention for controversy sparked over a rural fire.
The attention this time centers around a fire that broke out about 5 a.m. Monday at Vicky Bell and Brian Gilbert’s mobile home just outside the South Fulton city limits on East Cavitt Lane.
Ms. Bell and her boyfriend were awakened by a pet cat and found their residence filled with smoke. She told The Messenger they barely escaped and called 911 to report the fire.
The South Fulton Fire Department was dispatched, but Ms. Bell had not subscribed to the rural fire service offered to county residents and the city’s firefighters could not extinguish the blaze at her residence.
However, Ms. Bell said she realizes she had not paid the $75 annual rural fire subscription fee and has no ill feelings against the firefighters, contrary to anything which may have been conveyed in television news reports and which sparked the unsought national attention.
In fact, Ms. Bell told The Messenger she does not hold a grudge and has no animosity toward the firefighters. She said she is happy to have safely escaped and glad her neighbors’ homes were protected by firefighters.
Gilbert has also been quoted by sources as saying he is glad the fire department responded to protect the neighboring homes, adding the fire was so advanced when it was discovered that they likely would not have been able to save anything even if firefighters had been able to extinguish it.
Since Monday, the unwanted national media attention has included numerous news reports and South Fulton Mayor David Crocker’s even being named to Current TV network political commentary host Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Persons” list — along with presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — for Tuesday.
Plus, South Fulton’s City Hall, fire department and police department have received numerous phone calls, emails and faxes from around the nation, according to South Fulton city manager Debra Craig.
Calls and emails have also been received at the Obion County mayor’s office, as well as the local 911 dispatch center and other fire departments around Obion County.
South Fulton city manager Debra Craig said her voicemail box has stayed full this week and has actually hampered the receipt of messages pertaining to other city business.
“Messages have been left by some people who are concerned (over the fire incident). Some are concerned, but some are just threatening,” she said. “They’re from all over the country — calls, email messages, faxes. We’re not responding to them. They’re not blocking their names or anything, just sending them from business and personal emails. Some of them are vulgar.”
South Fulton Police Chief Andy Crocker said the many calls he has received this week include two from an Indiana man who offered to pay the fee for one year for rural South Fulton residents who haven’t paid their rural fire subscription fee. He said the man indicated he has made his money and has more than he can spend, explaining he wants to help people.
“He sounded sincere,” Crocker said. “He was not mean, didn’t want to say anything bad about anybody. He was very understanding.”
The Obion Fire Department’s Facebook page was shut down this week after receiving 21 million hits from people around the nation who did Internet searches for an Obion County fire department — which is non-existent — and apparently considered the Obion Fire Department the next best thing.
In the aftermath of the most recent South Fulton fire, Obion County officials have expressed hope that local residents who live in rural areas will realize the importance of paying the fee to have rural fire coverage, offered to county residents at a cost of just $75 per year.
This week’s fire controversy marks the second time South Fulton has drawn national attention for a recent rural fire incident. The other situation occurred in September 2010 involving the Cranick family.
The incident last year started with a Sept. 29, 2010, fire at Gene and Paulette Cranick’s home on Buddy Jones Road, also outside the city limits of South Fulton. The property owners had not paid the annual fee for the rural fire subscription service offered to county residents by the City of South Fulton and the city’s fire department could not respond to the blaze, which destroyed the home.
Later in the evening, the Cranicks’ son, 44-year-old Timothy A. Cranick, was charged with aggravated assault after allegedly hitting South Fulton Fire Chief David Wilds at the city’s fire station.
The fire story made national and even international headlines and the offices of local government officials were flooded with telephone calls, many of them hateful and some threatening in nature.
Mrs. Cranick told The Messenger in the days following the fire that she held no grudge against the City of South Fulton or the South Fulton Fire Department, adding that she and her family did not seek all the media attention but were pursuing the matter in order to see changes made in local rural fire coverage.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 12.9.11