House fire on Chevis Road now an arson investigation

House fire on Chevis Road now an arson investigation

CHATHAM CO., Ga. (WTOC) - A fire at a vacant house in Chatham County has been ruled an arson by the state fire marshal’s office.

The fire was at a vacant house on Chevis Road near Sylvania Road in the Georgetown area.

WTOC spoke to someone who lives next to where the fire started and learned firefighters started knocking on doors of neighboring homes around 3 a.m. They had people evacuate as a precaution while they worked to get the fire under control.

Savannah Fire said the home had not been lived in for the past four to five years.

No injuries were reported. A nearby home has minor damage but the residents are not displaced.

The state fire marshal’s office said this is the fourth arson investigation in the last few weeks in unincorporated Chatham County - all within a five-mile radius. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in this case.

This section of Chevis Road presents a challenge for fire crews because there aren’t any nearby hydrants. Chatham Fire had to cycle through at least three tanker trucks to bring shuttle in water from down the road. They then put that water into a pool and used that as a makeshift water source to put out the flames.

Aaron Whitely, the county commissioner for District 6 says for years, before he was even elected, this fire hydrant issue has been a hot topic.

Commissioner Whitely says the lack of fire hydrants is an issue impacting all the unincorporated areas of Chatham County.

“One of the reasons is because water is privatized in a lot of the unincorporated areas, so those privatized entities are the ones who are running water pipes to hydrants and they’re not necessarily big enough to truly support a firefighting effort,” Commissioner Whitely said.

The City of Savannah supplies water to some areas of the county, but he says there are unique challenges in the unincorporated areas.

“There are other steps that we need to go through to make sure that water and sewer is available to those areas and that oftentimes, most times, is via a third-party entity,” Commissioner Whitely said.

The Chatham Emergency Services Fire Chief James Vickers was on the scene Wednesday morning and says the nearest fire hydrants to this Chevis Road fire are about a mile and a half away. He says water is the critical resource they need to do their job.

“We have to have water to extinguish the fire, we have to have water to be able to rescue personnel and we have to have the water to extinguish exposures,” Chief Vickers said.

Chief Vickers says they had to shuttle water to the area and set up pools to act as a water source. He says this delays their ability to work.

Commissioner Whitely says the commission is looking into different solutions to afford and install more fire hydrants.

“There are some things that we can dig a little deeper, on a policy level, to make sure we’re setting our county as whole up for safety and success,” Commissioner Whitely said.

Commissioner Whitely says the abandoned houses in the area are also something he’s been trying to bring attention to.

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