Space heater may be cause of fatal fire

January 20, 2008 5:16:28 PM PST
A man died as his home went up in flames around him and investigators say it looks like a space heater started the fire.The man's neighbors hope the death can serve as a warning to others.

The victim's son tried to save his father from the flames at their home on Avenue F near Highway 6 in Santa Fe this weekend.

Ave F is a narrow single lane roa on the quiet side of the railroad tracks. Its homes are old, and they typically anchor long drives guarded by metal gates, such is the property of 59-year-old Charles Britz. But the shell of his home barely stands today and Britz no longer roams his acreage.

"Best kind of neighbor you could have. He was just grand," said the victim's friend Joyce Jolly.

His friends called him Beau. Early yesterday morning, investigators believe a space heater caught fire in the front of the house, where Beau slept. His son had a bedroom in the back.

"When he got up and opened his door, the flames were just so terrific that he just couldn't get to his dad in the front," said Jolly. "So he ran to the back to see if he could get out. And when he opened the back door, it sucked him back into the house."

Beau's 29-year old son, Robert, broke his hand trying to get out. His father perished near the front windows where the flames were out of control.

"Well, someone staying in an old house and trying to stay warm, I guess with an inadequate heater," said neighbor Dudley Packard.

A long retired pipe fitter in Texas City, the elder Britz had become among the most amiable, if not reliable, neighbors along this remote stretch of Santa Fe.

"He was a good neighbor; a good friend, just about as good a person as you could ever meet," said Packard.

But it is his son who neighbors say is devastated; unable to save his dad, and unwilling to believe it wasn't his fault.

"Because he felt like he should do something else to get back in and get his dad out. Nobody could. The firemen couldn't either," said Jolly.

The Houston Fire Department says about 100 fires every year are caused by space heaters and faulty furnaces.

Heaters should always be kept on the floor at least three feet away from walls, furniture or anything else that could burn. And don't hide the cords under rugs. That could cause the cord to overheat and start a fire.

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