A view of the fire raging from across the canal. [ Krista Miller | Contributed ]

Fire destroys St. George Island home

A fire that began late Monday night, May 20, and raged until the early morning hours completely destroyed a St. George Island home, and all of a families’ belongings.

According to a Facebook post by the St. George Island volunteer fire department, island firefighters responded to an emergency alert at 11:47 p.m. 

William and Chris Knight, at 316 Gibson Street, had escaped the flames with seconds to spare, and then she, as well as neighbor Jo Ellen Pearman, called 911 to report the blaze, which was quickly consuming the home.

A view of where the home on Gibson Street was. [ Isaac Lang | Contributed ]

“I was in bed around 11 p.m. and it sounded like bugs hitting the windows, and I thought we were being invaded by cicadas,” said William “Bouge” Knight.

He quickly awakened his wife and they scrambled out. Chris sustained minor burns on her back and right arm as she rushed down the stairs into the open air.

“If I had been a minute later we’d have been dead. It was so bad when we came down the steps, it exploded that quick,” said her husband. “She’s fine. She did grab her phone, and called 911.”

The department’s Facebook post said the “firefighters, while leaving their own homes, could see the home, already fully engulfed in flames at the time of the emergency alert.”

“It was one of the hottest fires I’ve seen, it seemed ultra hot and very aggressive,” said neighbor Krista Miller, who was among those who arrived quickly on the scene after Pearman.

“The firefighters sprayed and sprayed to keep houses from catching on fire,” Miller said. “Houses were saved because of those guys.”

The Knights, who are now staying with friends Kara and Bob Landiss, at one point had to enter the water of the adjacent canal to escape the intense heat of the blaze. Because they had to flee so quickly, they were unable to grab their car keys and so one of their cars was destroyed and the other appears likely to suffer a similar fate.

An overhead view of the destruction shows the car trapped beneath the debris. [ Isaac Lang | Contributed ]

Assisted by members of the Eastpoint Volunteer Fire Department, island firefighters were able to protect nearby homes, directly threatened by both the flames as well as a profusion of embers floating in the air.

“It looked like snow coming down,” said Pearman.

“Firefighters worked on the scene until approximately 5 a.m. and returned a short time later to attack new hotspots at the site,” read the Facebook post. “All the firefighters responded diligently and admirably in a dangerous, difficult situation. The community should be proud of their continuous support of these selfless volunteers.”

William Knight said the family lost their beloved dog Colby, while the Knights’ other two dogs, Tucker and Lilly, were able to escape the fire.

“He was age 17 and my sidekick and we loved him to death,” he said.

The department’s post expressed gratitude for the help of the Eastpoint department, as well as the efforts of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office for its assistance at the scene. “Fires are, by nature, chaotic and disorienting and Sheriff Smith’s team’s involvement was much appreciated,” it read. ” We, as a group, also wish to extend our help and assistance in any manner that may be needed by those impacted. Please know your community supports you.”

William Knight left no doubt where his and his wife’s hearts are in the aftermath of this devastation.

“This is the most wonderful community indeed. I’ve lived all over the US and never have I lived in a place like this,” he said. “The response that we have had from the people on this island, the volunteer fire department, is unbelievable, we love them to death, and first responders, and all the community.

“I just can’t say enough about the fire department. They’re awesome,” said William. “They have been so supportive.”
The Knights have received plenty of clothing and food, but the home which they have owned for a dozen years, and moved in permanently a few years ago, is now only ash.

“I was in Vietnam and I saw stuff that didn’t compare to this,” said William, 77, who was a Cobra gunship pilot. “It’s not been as harsh on me as it’s been on my wife.”

Chris will have more than a little joy this week, as she plans to go to Franklin, Tennessee to visit with a grandchild, who is expected to be delivered May 28. The Knights had updated their home in 2012, and were in the process of putting in an addition for the kids.

In addition to their insurance company, the family has consulted with a builder and they are already in the process of developing plans to rebuild on the site.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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