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4 die in fire: Searchers continue grim search for remains

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

(Photo)
Unionville firefighters battle a wall of flames at the Leon McClaran home on Kingdom Road late Sunday night. Four family members lost their lives.
(T-G photo by David Melson) [Order this photo]
Family members of four people who died when their farmhouse near Rover late Sunday night found solace in remembering better times as rescue workers searched for bodies Monday.

Leon "Bubba" McClaran Sr., 72, his wife Molly McClaran, 70, and grandchildren Chloe Pope, 9, and Gage "Buster" Daniel, 7, perished as flames swept their farmhouse on Kingdom Road. The fire was initially reported by a passerby about 10:30 p.m. after the home was fully engulfed.

The cause of the blaze is undetermined, according to investigators.

(Photo)
Molly McClaran
Two bodies, thought to be the McClarans, were recovered by firefighters and state forensics experts Monday, Sheriff Randall Boyce said.

(Photo)
Leon McClaran
Search efforts for the children continued until early Monday night, with two firefighters remaining at the scene overnight. Fire trucks were called twice early Monday night as flames rekindled.

Searchers, including a forensics team from Middle Tennessee State University and a cadaver dog, resumed their work this morning.

Victims remembered

Leon McClaran had just turned 72 earlier this month, his son, Leon McClaran Jr., said Monday.

"He was a great guy, always lent a helpful hand, never met a stranger," McClaran Jr. said. "He loved animals and was always cutting hay."

McClaran is remembered by many longtime area residents as the owner of the Pizza Villa restaurant in the 1970s. He had farmed in later years until retirement, family members said.

"He was a hard worker, willing to help everybody," Lisa Adams, his daughter, said through tears. "He was someone who would give someone the shirt off his back if he could."

"If you needed him or an answer to a question he was the one to go to," John Jordan, a longtime family friend, said. "Everyone he met was a friend."

"Molly was a great woman. They were raising those two kids. I always heard they were doing a great job," McClaran Jr. said.

'Wonderful' kids

The children were described as "wonderful" by family members.

Chloe was in fourth grade and Gage in second grade at Community Elementary School.

"Gage liked to be perched up on the Gator (all-terrain vehicle) with his granddaddy. He was like Dad's shadow," McClaran Jr. said. "Chloe was a sweet little girl with beautiful eyes."

Notified too late

The victims were thought to have been in their bedrooms when the fire broke out. Boyce said. The McClarans' remains were found in the home's basement under where the bedrooms had been, according to the sheriff.

State forensics experts, firefighters, Bedford County deputies and the MTSU team sifted through ashes by hand attempting to find the remaining bodies Monday, eventually calling for the cadaver dog.

The home had already mostly fallen in by the time firefighters arrived Sunday. After their fire trucks' tanks ran dry, they were forced to watch the flames for some time before more water arrived.

A frustrated Unionville firefighter described the situation as he stood by late Sunday night as a "worst-case scenario."

No hydrants are nearby and large fire trucks could barely squeeze into the space between the home and fences.

Firefighters eventually set up a large plastic water trough near the home from which to draw water.

Much help

Red Cross Disaster Action Team members from the Heart of Tennessee Chapter brought coffee, snacks and water for emergency responders and family members on the scene during the cold, pre-sunrise hours early Monday.

By midday, a parade of neighbors and friends were bringing food and water as grieving family members sat beside a gravel road on the property for hours awaiting recovery of the bodies.

"Our hearts go out to those family members who have lost their loved ones in the fire," said Executive Director Mike Cowles in a press release.

"In the wake of this tragedy, the American Red Cross strongly encourages community members to check their smoke detectors and review their family disaster plans now to ensure that they are ready and able to prepare for, prevent and respond to house fires and other disasters."