Tuesday house fire claims one life

Published 9:32 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2018

NATCHEZ — For more than 40 minutes, emergency responders performed CPR on an elderly woman as she lay on the ground just yards from the blazing fire that had consumed her house.

The roiling, black smoke periodically covered the little huddle of firemen and sheriff’s deputies as they tried to save Artiemese Harris-Frye’s life.

She died late Tuesday evening at Merit Health Natchez.

Email newsletter signup

The house fire on Gaylor Road Tuesday afternoon hospitalized three people — including two sheriff’s deputies who suffered smoke inhalation.

Both sheriff’s deputies were in stable condition, though one was expected to be hospitalized overnight.

Dozens of family members and friends ran to the burning structure as the flames crept higher and higher.

The primary concern, cousin and neighbor Needa Hackett said, was the woman trapped inside.

There was no way to get her out.

“Nobody could get inside the house,” Hacket said. “Her brother got a tractor and knocked the wall down while it was burning.”

With the wall knocked down, Fire Station 4 Capt. David Freeman, deputy Stephen Karabelen, deputy Kelvin Bailey and Natchez Fire Department firefighter Aronte Patten barreled into the black smoke once again to retrieve Harris-Frye.
“The sheriff’s deputies, they were here first, and they never gave up,” Hackett said. “I appreciate that. They have not given up.”

As the emergency responders continued to perform CPR, several family members came running from the road.

“My Grandma! God, please help my grandma,” one woman pleaded. “Please, God, save her.”

As she knelt down on the ground praying and crying, the dark smoke unfurled and covered her.

“My grandson was in the house when it caught fire …” said Brenda Strickland, a cousin and neighbor. “He called me and he was screaming that the house was on fire and he couldn’t get her out. He went back in three times when it was pitch black, but we couldn’t get her out.”

Strickland stood in the grass barefoot; she had not stopped even to grab shoes when she ran from her house just yards away from Harris-Frye’s.

“We’re all family here,” Strickland said. “Everybody here is kin to each other.”

Deputies Karabelen and Bailey later received treatment for severe smoke inhalation, and Fire Chief Aaron Wesley said he asked Freeman and Patten to go home.“When you inhale that much smoke for so long, it can really get to you,” Wesley said. “We started just before 6 (p.m.), and we’ll probably be here until 10. We are still trying to put this out.”

Family members flocked to Merit Health Natchez to await a status update on Harris-Frye’s condition. She was pronounced dead at Merit Health at approximately 7:39 p.m., Adams County Coroner James Lee said Tuesday night.

Lee gave his condolences to the family, saying Harris-Frye’s death was a terrible tragedy.

Everyone on Gaylor Road — the tight-knit community where everyone knows one another —  would be affected, Hackett said.

“Nothing ever happens out here,” Hackett said. “It is always so peaceful. I’ve never seen a house fire before, and I never want to again.”