MILLTOWN -- As flames ravaged a rustic home late last week, Christmas presents were burned, but "some of them" were rescued by a relative when the first firefighters on the scene briefly held the blaze at bay.
"I just got all my Christmas shopping done," Victor Griffin said, surrounded by family and friends in the yard next-door while watching his home of 23 years go up in smoke and down in burnt boards pulled away from flames by a fireman's hook.
Berlin Fire Chief Joe Greer said, "We were able to contain the fire enough for the family to get some things out."
And, as it turns out, it was Griffin's son, Greg, who lives next door and who called 911. With help, he braved the fire to carry boxes from the burning building, according to statements from men at the fire scene on Friday morning.
The house fire at the home of Victor and Deloris Jean Griffin was one of several fires in recent weeks, as winter has turned cold, wet and gray when days were being counted down to Christmas.
As awful as it was for the Griffins, a Lewisburg family last week counted their blessings because three children remembered a firefighter's lesson: close the door on fire and escape to a prearranged safe place. They did so when a grease fire blazed in their home's kitchen, and this week the youngsters were to be honored for their bravery and their story is being told statewide in a firefighter's journal.
That family is staying in a motel as the Griffins turned to their boys' homes after their Milltown Road house fire.
"The fire started in the kitchen near the breaker box and stove," the Berlin fire chief said. "We found the breaker box in the rubble. I did not turn the box over" to see if it was a fuse box or a switchbox, he said.
"Sometimes insurance companies get concerned about that," Greer said.
Before noon, Hartford Insurance adjuster Terry Dill of Nashville was calling for more information about the fire.
"Walls are still standing, but it's gutted," Greer said of the Griffin house. "It's not re-buildable. When we pulled up, we were concerned that it would go to the ground."
The fire started in the left rear of the house, the opposite side of the house from where gifts, clothing, other personal items and guns were removed, the chief said.
"We were concerned about them (the guns). If you're near a house fire when guns start popping off, you'll think you're in a war zone," Greer said.
"They carried boxes of stuff out," he said.
There were no personal injuries due to the fire, although, "One firefighter got exhausted and we put him in the ambulance and put him on oxygen, but he perked up right away," Greer said.
"When someone gets like that, when they come back, they feel pretty good, but they're out of service," he said.
A Marshall County Emergency Medical Service ambulance and crew "stayed for the entire event," Greer said. "We were proud of that.
"For nearly three hours, they didn't have to do a thing, but when we needed them, they were there," the fire chief said. "The EMS crew really takes care of us."
The fire was in the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department's district, but the next closest department, Chapel Hill, was called and the Farmington-Rich Creek Volunteer Fire Department was also dispatched.
The Marshall County Emergency Management Agency also responded with its water supply truck.
"We had ample manpower and we never lacked fr water," Greer said.
Firefighters were dispatched at 8:41 a.m. Friday. They were at the scene before 9 a.m.
By Monday, the Griffins had moved to a rental house at 1396 Rambo Hollow Road, according to Deloris Jean Griffin. She said she's scheduled for kidney surgery on Monday. She was at Baptist Hospital on Friday making arrangements for the operation when her house burned.