OCONEE COUNTY, SC (FOX Carolina) Deputies with the Oconee County Sheriff's Office have confirmed they are investigating a fire that claimed the lives of a grandfather and grandson late Saturday night, as arson.
The Oconee County Fire Department said their crews, along with several other agencies, were investigating the deadly house fire that occurred along Hidden Valley Road.
According to Fire Chief Charlie King, firefighters were alerted to the scene between Walhalla and Salem just before midnight Saturday, July 13.
Upon arrival, King said firefighters encountered a home well-involved in fire. The coroner said the family that made it out told the first responders a 26-year-old man had reportedly run in the back door of the home to save his grandfather - and neither had come back out.
Firefighters worked for about half an hour to calm the flames.
During that time, one person was treated on scene and transported via EMS to Oconee Hospital.
A family member informed us that person is in stable condition.
King says once the fire was out, his crews discovered the remains of the grandson and grandfather.
The Oconee County Coroner identified the young man as Mr. Daniel Lee Ayers. His grandfather was 75-year-old Winfred Lee Dills. Family members called him papa.
On Tuesday, July 16, the coroner confirmed both men's cause of death was smoke and soot inhalation, and thermal injuries sustained in the fire.
A ruling in their manner of death remains pending as the investigation remains active.
The family of the victims released a statement Sunday expressing their grief:
"Daniel was an amazing brother. He was outgoing, smart and very fun to be around! He cared so much about his family and most of all his nieces and nephews. He was very courageous at life. Daniel always had a smile and laugh that everyone loved. I’m going to miss him dearly!
Our papa was the most sweetest man anyone could ever ask for! Always welcomed anyone who was around. He loved to talk and have conversations about old times. His children/grandchildren were his world! The family will definitely miss them and all the fun times that we all had together!"
Cody Smith, Daniel Ayers' brother-in-law, says family members and friends gathered to celebrate Daniel's uncle's birthday in the backyard. He says that's when they noticed something wrong.
"We were all out here and we saw smoke coming up from back of the house and we all panicked," Smith said. "I was trying to bust through the window right here (he pointed) to get papa. Neither one of them came out."
The Oconee County Fire Investigations Team, the Oconee County Sheriff's Office, the Oconee County Coroner's Office, SLED and SC State Fire are all working the investigation.
Deputies with the Oconee County Sheriff's Office confirm the fire is being investigated as an arson at this time.
"Ain't nobody really doing good with it right now," Smith said. "They've always been about family. They're going to be missed more than anybody can ever explain."