Passersby alert Dacula family to early-morning fire

DACULA — Amy Oates’ schedule has been wacky lately. The executive producer for Atlanta TV station Fox 5 had already reported to work at 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. this week and, thanks to the weather, left her Dacula home at about 5:15 a.m. Wednesday.

The timing, as it turned out, was perfect. And life-saving.

“My schedule has not been consistent,” Oates, 41, said. “I feel like it was meant for me to be passing that house at that time.”

Gwinnett County firefighters responded to a house fire on the 2100 block of West Drowning Creek Road Wednesday morning, battling a blaze that began inside a garage and quickly spread to the main home’s second story and attic. They were there because Oates and another passerby — 18-year-old Dacula High School grad and Georgia Gwinnett College student Drew Ridgley — spotted the flames.

They alerted the family inside.

“The guy that pulled up behind me, he and I both went to the front door and we’re like simultaneously ringing the doorbell and pounding on the door,” Oates said. “…We were just screaming, ‘You have to get out, you have to get out.’”

The sleeping occupants, three adults and a child, had not yet been alerted by smoke alarms. Oates said it felt like “an eternity,” but they ultimately came to the front door and escaped unharmed.

Meanwhile, responding firefighters found a “large semi-attached garage/workshop” that was fully engulfed in flames, as well as four vehicles. The blaze spread to the second floor and attic of the nearby home, fire department spokesman Capt. Tommy Rutledge said, and crews deployed multiple hoses to attack it from the outside.

Battling cold weather and icy conditions — some self-created — firefighters were able to contain the fire. The garage and four vehicles were a total loss.

The cause of the fire was undetermined and under investigation but “appears accidental,” Rutledge said. Officials said welding equipment and propane were located inside the garage.

The residents were displaced by the damage but being assisted by friends.

“We are fortunate that the passersby were able to alert the family to the fire before it was too late,” Rutledge said.

Oates, who met one of the house’s residents about three weeks earlier at her child’s school, said the family was grateful for being awakened.

“I knew there was no activity in the house,” Oates said. “I obviously knew they did not know about it. I just kind of reacted.”