MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - One of Lakeland's oldest and most beloved residents has died. Investigators say it appears George Farris didn't have the strength to make it out of his burning home Wednesday morning around 9a.m. Family members blame a faulty space heater. Mr. Farris was 100 years-old and partially blind. A family member told abc24.com around 5:30pm that same day vandals came into the burned house and stole Farris’s refrigerator, AC, and rod iron doors off the house.
"This don't seem real, don't seem real,” said George Farris's nephew, also named like his uncle. “When I got the call that the house was on fire, I figured he was in it."
Not much was left of George Farris’ home after the fire was put out by firefighters.
“All the walls, all the contents, the ceilings, everything was burning inside the home so it's a very hostile environment that unfortunately is not conducive to survival,” said the Shelby County Fire Department spokesman Brent Perkins.
Shelby County firefighters arrived within minutes in the 3900 block of Canada Road. In all, three engine companies from Shelby County Fire and one from Arlington Fire arrived with some twenty firefighters in all, working to suppress the fire. It took 30-minutes for fighters to get things under control, by that time it was too late.
"Tragic. No way for anybody to go that way, let alone a 100 year old man. It's pretty bad on the family,” said Farris’ cousin Immeari Williams.
"He was a loving person. He's the only uncle living on my daddy's side. He and my dad were brothers. I love him to death," said Farris.
Family members believe Farris was trying to stay warm. They hope this will be a lesson for others to watch over the elderly.
"Check on them make sure is everything is secure. Make sure they have access to warmth so they don't have to actually set it themselves," said Williams.
Farris lived in his Lakeland home for almost a century. Those who knew him say he won't be forgotten.
"He's just a kind person, a nice man,” Farris said as he wiped his tears. “I'll really miss him.”
Two firefighters received minor burns, they weren't treated and are expected to be ok. Even though the family believes a space heater started the fire, the Shelby County Fire Department is still investigating. Investigators are still trying to figure out whether there was a smoke detector inside the home. They say having one increases your chances of escaping a fire by 50 percent.