Foul play not ruled out in fatal Wilcox County blaze

Patricia Nickelson (Courtesy: Nickelson's Family)
Patricia Nickelson (Courtesy: Nickelson's Family)
Flora Smith & Dorshay Searight (Courtesy: Family)
Flora Smith & Dorshay Searight (Courtesy: Family)

WILCOX COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - Mable Davis could do nothing but watch as flames devoured the home across the street where her sister, Patricia Nickelson, had been staying with her long time boyfriend. He got out of the burning house in Camden but Nickelson did not.

"The house was just engulfed in fire. You could feel the flames right up there on my porch. I said, 'Lord if she's in there, she's dead.' My heart is so heavy," Davis said.

The fire happened around 3:30 a.m. Sunday on Morgan Road in Camden in the area known as Whiskey Run. Nickelson's remains were found in the rubble. She had recently turned 58.

Trish, as she was called, was a well-known and well-liked woman. A message has been posted at the Camden restaurant where she worked for 33 years and folks have been out at the town square, rocked by her death and the deaths of Flora Smith, 32, and her daughter, Dorshay Searight, 2, who were killed in April in a fire at a home also located in the Whiskey Run area of Camden.

"It's been real bad. I've been trying to deal with it day by day," said Smith's sister, Ella.

The State Fire Marshal's Office says the cause of the April blaze has been ruled undetermined, investigators leaning towards electrical or home heating problems.

As for the fire that claimed Trish's life, its cause and her death remain under investigation. Wilcox County Sheriff Earnest Evans says there's a possibility of foul play.

 "We have a person of interest that we're talking to. We have him in custody on unrelated charges but the investigating is still going on," Evans said. 

He did not release the man's name but did identify him as Nickelson's boyfriend.

A spokesman for the State Fire Marshal's Office says any time the agency investigates a fatal fire, foul play must be either ruled out or proven and at this point it's still too early in the investigation since  the cause of fire and death has not been established.

"I just want to know what happened to my sister. And how did the house burn when there was no electricity was in the house. I just want justice- that's what I want for my sister. She didn't deserve to die like this. We love her and we want answers," her sister, Geraldine Grace, said.

Despite community concerns, local and state authorities do not believe the two deadly fires are connected.

"We don't believe they are related because the first fire appears to have been an accidental fire so we don' t believe they're connected," Sheriff Evans said.

Anyone with information on the deadly fires is asked to contact the Wilcox County Sheriff's Office or the State Fire Marshal's Office.

There have been 63 fire fatalities in Alabama so far this year.

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