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House fire displaces family
Soldier, family escape unharmed, lose household
0505 House fire
Members of the Gum Branch and Walthourville Fire and Rescue units work to extinguish a house fire Thursday night in the 5900 block of Highway 196. - photo by Photo by Lewis Levine

The Gum Branch home of a Fort Stewart soldier and his family was heavily damaged Thursday night by fire. The family and their pets made it out OK but lost most of their belongings.
 The fire began shortly after 7 p.m. in the 5900 block of Highway 196. Benjamin Offerhall, who is assigned to Fort Stewart, said he was sitting on the couch with his two boys when he saw the lights flicker. He didn’t think much of it until the lights flickered again, so he went to investigate.
As Offerhall approached the rear of the home, he smelled smoke and then spotted flames coming from the vicinity of the laundry room.
Offerhall said he grabbed his boys and went to wake up his wife, Annetta Penix, who was asleep in the couple’s bedroom. Penix said the smoke was so thick that she had difficulty seeing and breathing as the family scrambled to escape; however, everyone — including the family’s pets — made it out of the residence safely with only the clothes on their backs. Offerhall then called Liberty 911.
Two fire departments responded to the call. Gum Branch and Walthourville Fire and Rescue units arrived to put out the fire, which primarily was contained to the rear of the residence. The home also sustained heavy smoke damage.
The Red Cross is assisting the family.

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