Family says circuit breaker sparked fire that destroyed historic home

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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YORK COUNTY, S.C. - David Starnes stood outside his home of nearly two years Wednesday morning, his arm around his wife. They stared at the charred wood and melted siding, still in disbelief.

"I'm happy we all got out of there. You can't replace a life," Starnes said.

The family was renting an historic farmhouse at Reid and Tuckaway roads south of Rock Hill.

Six people -- including three children -- had to escape after the house caught fire in the early morning hours Wednesday.

Starnes said he always leaves a light on in a hallway for his elderly father. Late Tuesday night the light suddenly went off. Starnes said the breaker had tripped and sparks flew when he tried to turn it back on. He left it off, unplugged several things from the walls to be on the safe side, then went to bed.

"My wife woke up about 1:15, 1:30 and said she smelled smoke," Starnes said.

The couple, Starnes' father and three teenagers got out in time to look back and see flames shooting through the roof of the large two-story home.

"The smoke was coming in from under the bedroom door. They couldn't even see to get down the steps," Starnes said.

Across the street, Gloria Kellerhals told Eyewitness News that her mother, Mildred, owns the house. She's devastated because the house was first built as a log cabin in the 1700s. Civil War soldiers even stayed there. She said additions were made in the 1800s and family members lived there for generations.

"Everyone's roots are based on this house, so it's very sad," Kellerhals said.

"It was more fire trucks than I've ever seen," said her husband, Tom. "More firefighters too. Lots of flames."

Starnes said his family had just set up their Christmas tree the night before and planned to wrap all the gifts they bought on Wednesday.

"Before we got anything wrapped, everything got engulfed," he said.

York County fire investigators told Eyewitness News that the fire did appear to be electrical, but it would be left "undetermined" officially because there wasn't enough left behind to be sure.

The American Red Cross is putting up the Starnes family in a Rock Hill motel for three nights. The agency is asking for donations to continue helping local families suffering through similar losses.