Area businessman dies in house fire
MILTON -- One man's decision to walk toward the flames of a fire in his house rather than escape led to his death early Monday in his ridge top farmhouse along Dry Ridge Road near Milton.
Emergency crews received word of the fire just after 4 a.m. Monday. They arrived to find approximately 80 percent of the house engulfed in flames.
State officials, along with neighbor Sandra Hatfield, identified the deceased as area businessman Frank Linville, 75. Several years ago, Hatfield greeted the Linville family with a welcoming gift as they moved in and from there developed a friendship with his wife, Carolyn.
"It's bad," Hatfield said while weeping. "It's horrible. It's such a loss. He's such a good man."
Authorities believe Linville's wife woke to the smell of smoke. Moments later she saw the glow of fire and alerted her husband. He walked toward the flames as she exited through a back door while calling 911, said Reed Cook, a deputy state fire marshal.
Smoke billowed from the charred rubble for hours.
Milton Volunteer Fire Chief Brent Taylor said the home's metal roof collapsed and complicated the effort, forcing firefighters to pull away the roof to extinguish smoldering debris trapped below.
The state Medical Examiner's Office will determine the precise cause of death, however Cook said investigators believe the victim was likely overcome by smoke as he approached the fire.
Investigators described it as an accidental fire that likely started on the home's porch and quickly spread inside. Cook stopped short of calling it electrical, but said the ignition might be tied to a dog's warming pad located on the porch.
Marsha Black, 53, lives just over the hillside. She woke just before 6 a.m. Monday, heard fire trucks and looked outside.
"It almost looked like a huge Christmas tree lit up," she said. "It was like flames shooting everywhere."
Cook said one of the victim's sons, who lives at a neighboring residence, suffered minor lacerations to his wrist and other injuries as he tried to enter the home. He was treated at the scene.
A family pet also died in the fire, Cook said.
Hatfield, 68, was not surprised by news that Frank Linville walked toward the flames. She said he gladly accepted his role as "man of the house" and worked hard for it and their other possessions. She further described him as a businessman involved in several area ventures.
Local attorney Bill Watson remembered his client as "very enterprising" businessman, who seemed "always seemed anxious to develop new products."
But with that work ethic came generosity and a kind spirit, Hatfield said. She remembered Linville as someone who often slowed his vehicle to speak and would bring her mail when it was delivered to the wrong box.
"He was quiet, meek and as big at heart as can be," she said.
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