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Investigators determine common yet deadly cause for Wells Avenue fire

Investigator Sam Harris of the Albany Fire Department said it started with a pot left unattended on the stove, a common yet deadly cause for house fires. / Mary Green

Joann Graham has lived on Wells Avenue in Albany for more than 30 years. But she had never seen something like she saw Wednesday night, so close to her own home — a fire that had completely destroyed the house next door.

“Something like little grass or something, but not—never like this," she said.

“I looked around, and I said, ‘It really is burning,’ and the wind was blowing fast, and boom! I said, ‘Oh, gosh,'" she said.

Investigator Sam Harris of the Albany Fire Department said it started with a pot left unattended on the stove, a common yet deadly cause for house fires.

“Don’t go watch TV. Don’t go play on the computer. Stay with it," Harris said. "And the second thing is, always have a good smoke detector that is working within your structure.”

A 67-year-old man, Shelley Keaton, died in the fire. Harris said he can tell Keaton was trying to get out the front door but didn't make it. Crews that arrived at the fire were unable to resuscitate him.

Harris said that's why it's important to crawl below the smoke if you're escaping a fire.

“When you breathe in the smoke, it disorients you and makes you like you’re intoxicated," he said. "And so when you get to the door, it’s hard for you to figure out how to open the door.”

Graham said she lived next door to Keaton for decades, and they even went to school together.

She said she'll miss seeing him on Wells Avenue.

“You know, he’d be walking the street, going to the store to get drinks and whatever," she said.

But now his death has her rethinking her own habits at home.

“Usually when I’m cooking and somebody comes to the door, you know, I leave it, cut it down, lower it," she said. "But no, I’m not cutting it down or lowering it."

AFD was previously looking for a woman who also lived in the home, but Harris said they've since found out she was in Atlanta at the time of the fire.

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