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Man dies while trying to rescue dog from fire

March 05, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A Bunker Hill, W.Va., man died early Thursday when he ran inside his burning trailer to try to save his dog, Loner, according to police and the man's family members.

Assistant State Fire Marshal Ed Robinson said he could not release the man's name, but three family members identified the victim as Mike Brown, 49.

Robinson said the body was sent to the Medical Examiner's Office in Charleston, W.Va., to obtain positive identification.

After the fire at 255 Trough Hill Drive was reported at 12:54 a.m., firefighters with South Berkeley Volunteer Fire Department, Back Creek Valley Volunteer Fire Department and from Frederick County, Va., responded.

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While en route, the firefighters were told that a person might have been trapped inside, Robinson said.

The man's body was found in a back bedroom, on the floor by a large dog's body. The body of a second dog was found on a bed in the same room and family members said a third, smaller dog also died in the fire.

One of the man's arms was found underneath Loner. Robinson said it was possible the man either tried to pick up his dog or that the dog came over and laid by him.

Several people lived in the home and nobody else was injured. Brown had made it outside, but then ran back inside, family members said.

Lt. Trevor Lewis, with South Berkeley, said the trailer was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. Although an effort was made to extinguish the fire quickly to try to save the man, the blaze proved to be too bad, Lewis said.

"The structure was too far gone," he said.

It ended up taking around 45 minutes to get the blaze under control, he said.

At the scene Thursday afternoon, at least two dogs were tied up around the gutted trailer and several chickens roamed around the area. A partially soot-covered cat was milling around the debris until someone carefully carried it away.

Robinson said he had an idea of what caused the fire, but said heavy damage might prevent an exact cause from ever being known. He said the fire started in the kitchen.

Charles Helmick, Brown's brother, said several people lived in the trailer with Brown and another brother, George Helmick. Additions were built to the main trailer and several smaller storage-type trailers were set up around it.

Robinson said about six people lived in the home.

Brown and George Helmick both had physical handicaps stemming from injuries they received in a car accident that claimed the life of their father, said Jennifer Helmick, Brown's sister-in-law.

Moe Sholough, who is married to Brown's niece, said Brown loved to work on cars that people dropped off at his home. He was not married and had no children, Sholough said.

"He was a good guy," Sholough said.

Jennifer Helmick said the dog, Loner, had always been there for his owner, prompting Brown to try to save him.

"He was a very caring person. He had a love for collecting cars, animals. He loved animals," she said.

Always willing to help, Brown opened his doors to people who needed a place to stay, Helmick said.

"He literally would give you the shirt off his back," Jennifer Helmick said.

The fire remained under investigation by the State Fire Marshal's Office, the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department and the Berkeley County Fire Investigation Team, which consists of sheriff's deputies and firefighters.

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