Authorities identify fire victim

COVINGTON - Newton County authorities have identified the body of the man found in the burned remains of a home on Sunday morning as that of 73-year-old Garland G. Umberger Jr.

Newton County Deputy Fire Chief Tim Smith said an autopsy done on Umberger, who was the owner and only occupant of 316 Elks Club Road, revealed that he died of smoke inhalation.

Smith said the cause of the fire appears to be accidental.

"It looks like Mr. Umberger may have fallen asleep while sitting in a chair smoking a cigarette and woke up in the living room while the house was on fire," Smith said. "He was trying to exit the house when he was overcome by the smoke."

Firefighters responded to the residence about 1 a.m. Sunday, after a neighbor called 911 to report that flames were coming through the roof.

When firefighters arrived, the fire was fully involved, already having burned through the roof and setting nearby trees aflame.

Smith said it took approximately an hour to bring the fire under control and the house and contents were a total loss. He estimated the house cost about $300,000 and there was approximately $25,000 worth of contents lost.

The 2,500-square-foot, single-story house had no smoke alarms, which might have alerted the man in time to escape the burning home. Umberger's body was found about 3 feet from the front door.

Moved to the Elks Club Road site about 12 years ago, the home was originally built in Putnam County in 1855.

Smith said that building guidelines now stipulate that a smoke detector must be installed in each bedroom of every new home that is erected.

"A smoke detector might have prevented this man from passing away if they had been installed in the house. We want to urge all the citizens if they need a smoke detector, if they need one installed, if they need us to check it ... we'll come out free of charge," he said. "Smoke detectors save lives."

The Newton County Fire Service can be reached at 770-784-2116.

In other fire news, arson investigators are looking into two fires that destroyed a pair of cars that had been reported stolen out of DeKalb County earlier this month.

One of the cars, a BMW sedan, was found burned in the Stanton Springs Technology Park off U.S. Highway 278 during the early morning hours of Feb. 9.

The other vehicle, a Kia sport utility vehicle, was found burned on Hollis Road near Ga. Highway 11 on Saturday evening.

Smith asks that anyone with information about either of these incidents to call the NCFS at 770-784-2116.

Tips can be given to the NCFS anonymously at 678-625-5050 or through the Newton County Web site by visiting http://.co.newton. ga.us and clicking on "NCFS arson tip line." Those who want a response from NCFS personnel should leave contact information.

Residents may also call the state arson tip line at 1-800-282-5804. Rewards of up to $10,000 are offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of an arsonist.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.