Morning fire destroys Chester home

CHESTER -- A window air conditioner is being blamed in a Monday morning fire that destroyed a home and displaced a woman and her two children, said Chester Fire Marshal Jamie Leonard.

The fire sparked words of warning from area fire officials about the potential danger of overusing window air conditioners during the record heat wave.

Leonard said the fire at 115 Floyd St. started around 4:15 a.m. Monday, when a window air conditioner shorted out. "It had been running nonstop for two weeks," Leonard said. "It was too small for the house and had been overworked."

The two-bedroom house was home to Lakisha Barkstrom and her two school-age children, Leonard said. He said the family rented the home, and they are receiving assistance from the American Red Cross.

Barkstrom could not be reached for comment Monday.

No one was injured in the blaze, Leonard said, thanks to a smoke detector that alerted the three occupants of the home in time for them to evacuate.

The blaze occurred during a record-setting heat wave that has also set records for energy demands as people rely heavily on air conditioners for relief.

With temperatures expected to peak around 98 degrees for several more days, Leonard is reminding people who use window air conditioners to turn the units off when they aren't home.

"Those units are not meant to run 24/7," he said. "You gotta give 'em a break."

In Rock Hill, Fire Marshal Mike Moore said there haven't been any air conditioners blamed for causing fires. But he said many residents do use window units improperly.

"People buy a window unit, plug it in and just go," he said. "When it's overused, it can cause problems."

Moore suggests that anyone who installs an air conditioner of any size should first consult an electrician to make sure the wiring and size of the unit is compatible with the home's wiring.

Fire officials said the heat wave has also sparked several small grass fires across the area.

With less than a trace of rainfall in more than three weeks, officials are reminding residents to curtail outdoor burning if possible until drought conditions improve.

Adam O'Daniel • 329-4069