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Elderly Harrison County couple loses house to fire

By Sarah Thomas
Sept. 23, 2013 at 12:45 p.m.

An elderly couple Monday afternoon lost their home of 12 years to a fire that took more than a dozen firefighters from Hallsville and West Harrison VFD more than two hours to contain.

Beverly Guess and Pete Robertson were visiting friends about six miles away from their Harrison County home when a friends' daughter, who happened to drive by the house, called.

"She called and asked which house we lived at and said there was a fire. When she said there was a blue and white Ford truck in front of the house, I knew right then it was my house," Guess said as she clutched her dog Tussie, one of several animals to survive the fire.

Augustine Lopez, a neighbor who rents from the couple, said he came home about 12:30 p.m. from a tree-trimming job and saw the smoke.

Lopez called 911 and ran over to the house.

He feared Guess might be trapped inside the burning house, he said, because she was sick and sometimes took medicine that made her drowsy.

"I thought she maybe took some pills and laid down.

(So then I) opened that door and that door," Lopez said, pointing to a door at the side of the house and another one at the front.

But, he said, all he could do was yell through the smoke which was too thick to enter.

"The smoke just started coming and coming and coming. I was yelling 'Where's Beverly?! Where's Beverly?!'" Lopez said.

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Tyson Chow was the first emergency responder to arrive.

"The garage and rear of the house was engulfed in flames," he said. "Initially, someone said someone could be inside, and later we found out no one was in the house."

Chow, who is a volunteer with the West Harrison Volunteer Fire Department, stayed on the scene and helped firefighters when they arrived.

Guess' two pot-bellied pigs were in the backyard when the fire started, and Guess didn't know until more than an hour after that the pet pigs were unharmed.

The couple's four horses escaped to a secondary pasture farther away. Five kittens and two other dogs also made it out alive.

"The heat got to some of the chickens," Robertson said as he and Guess watched the fire. "We lost a lot of chickens."

The fire destroyed the house. Flames worked their way through an open storage area between the house and a storage building where Guess stored antiques.

"We're hoping they keep it from getting to there," she pointed to the storage building with smoke seeping from the rafters, hoping she would not lose an antique collection she's been building for more then 30 years.

The cause of the fire was unknown Monday afternoon, Harrison County Fire Marshal Thomas Mock said.

"I did pin it down to starting in the bedroom," he said. "I couldn't find the cause, because it is pretty well gutted back there."

Friday's rain may have helped firefighters, Mock said, because flames jetting from the roof of the home reached into the tress above could have spread had the area still been dry enough to be under a burn ban.

"It certainly could've spread to other areas had it still been as dry as it has been," Mock said.

Robertson said he was told it may have been electrical and may have started in the kitchen.

"Reality hasn't set in yet," he said.

Guess and Robertson said they have friends and family who will help them until they can get back on their feet.

"Pete and Beverly are fantastic. These people are welcomed at my home anytime," said Stephen Matthews, the friend they were visiting when the fire started. "They were sitting at my table when my daughter called and said their house was on fire."



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