BARTON — Tears ran down Carla Long’s face as she looked at the rubble that was left of her sister-in-law’s residence.
She watched intently as firefighters worked to find the bodies of her sister-in-law, Angela Long, 50, and Long’s 6-year-old nephew, Chalmas Buie. When the firefighters and the coroner began to remove the bodies from the charred remains of the home, she turned away and remembered good thoughts of the two.
“He was a fun-loving little boy, who loved being around and playing with his cousins,” Long said of Buie.
“And Angela,” Long said, pausing to gather her composure, “She was so special, I loved her like a sister I never had.”
Buie and Long died inside the house at 1050 Mulberry Lane on Saturday.
The fire was reported at 6:22 a.m. Before the bodies were recovered, 17 volunteer fire departments, emergency medical services and police assisted the Barton Volunteer Fire Department.
Colbert County Coroner Carlton Utley declined to confirm the identities of the two. He said the bodies have been taken to the Alabama Department of Forensic’s lab in Huntsville, where positive identifications will be made. Utley said medical and dental records will be used to make the identifications.
Chalmas’ sister, D’nysa Holman, 9, his mother, Karisa Turnley, 38, and her boyfriend, Charles Smith, got out of the burning house but were injured.
Turnley and Smith were taken to Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, where they were treated and released. Emergency crews at the scene said it appeared they sustained burns to their hands and smoke inhalation.
D’nysa, who had burns to her face, arms and hands, was flown to UAB Hospital’s burn center.
Her condition was not available, but emergency medical officials at the scene said the girl was conscious, alert and talking.
Her mother and Smith came to the house after being released from the hospital and talked with officials with the Colbert County Sheriff’s Office and the state fire marshal’s office before going to Birmingham.
Barton Volunteer Fire Chief William Hogeland said the fire was coming through the front end of the house when firefighters arrived.
“We don’t know what caused it, but there was heavy fire and smoke in the north side when we got here, and we got here within five minutes of the call,” Hogeland said.
He said three people were outside when they arrived. Shortly after they arrived, the roof started falling in, making it impossible to enter, officials said.
Fire departments from throughout Colbert County and even Oakland in Lauderdale County sent tanker trucks to help supply water.
Smoke and flames could be seen from the block structure for more than a mile away.
Carla Long said the house has been built onto several times.
“They joked that after they got income tax (returns) they would always add on to the house,” she said.
After the fire was out, firefighters began the painstaking task of search and recovery. Working with shovels and removing the tin roof, they inched their way through the different rooms of the house looking for the two victims.
After nearly three hours, Angela Long’s body was found in her bedroom in the south end of the house, and the boy was found in the kitchen area.
The news of Saturday morning’s tragedy quickly spread throughout the Cherokee area. Several people came by the residence to offer comfort to family members still at the scene.
American Red Cross workers were on hand to assist the family with clothing and housing.
Cherokee Elementary School Principal Pam Worsham said he was devastated after hearing the news of the fire. She said Chalmas was a kindergartner at the elementary school and his sister had attended school there, but was presently being home-schooled.
Worsham said extra counselors and faculty will be on hand at school Monday to help students deal with the loss of a classmate.
Through all of the sadness of the morning’s circumstances, Carla Long couldn’t help but smile when she reflected on the memories of her sister-in-law and Chalmas.
“We talked every day about something. We didn’t go a day without talking; we were that close,” Carla Long said.
She said her friend and sister-in-law loved to sew and they would often spend several hours talking about different patterns and sewing projects.
“I loved sitting at the table with her, talking about some new pattern and her sewing. She was always making something for the girls. She loved to sew and makes things.
“And Chalmas, he was so full of life. He always had a smile on his face. He was just a special little boy.”
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.