Investigators Looking for Cause of Fatal Fire - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

09/23/04

Investigators Looking for Cause of Fatal Fire

A mother's grieving the loss of her daughter after their home on Jefferson Street in Savannah went up in flames. Investigators know it began on the first floor, but no one is sure what started it. What concerns everyone now is how the fire ended, with the death of 54-year-old Juanita Gilbert.

Gilbert's mother, Ethel Jackson, saw the fire when she came home from picking up her daughter's prescriptions.

"The police told me I couldn't go in there. I couldn't go in there," Jackson said. "That's the only daughter I have."

Smoke was pouring out of her home and flames had gutted the inside and melted away the very siding. Jackson, who had committed her life to caring for her diabetic daughter, was powerless to do anything.

"I retired from my job," Jackson told us. "This was my next job, to make sure she was all right."

Roger Davis, who also lived there and is battling cancer, managed to escape. "I knocked out the two front windows so some of the smoke could come out and I was screaming in there, calling names," he said.

Roger's sister Glenda is relieved he's alive, but her heart is breaking to know Juanita is gone. "She's just a fun, happy-go-lucky person and that's all I can say. She'll be missed."

Because someone died there, Savannah-Chatham police and Savannah firefighters will be working together to figure out what happened. But whether it was foul play or an accident, one thing is sure: this family has been shattered.

"I was trying to be there for my child, trying to be there any time of day and night," said Jackson. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know."

The coroner's office will conduct an autopsy to find out how Juanita Gilbert died. Her mother and the two other men who lived in the home are being helped by the Red Cross. We'll let you know what happens with the fire investigation.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com

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