Two fire victims died in heroic rescue effort

January 11, 2013 10:13:47 AM

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Officials with the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Office confirmed Thursday that the final body has been recovered from the charred rubble left after a Wednesday afternoon house fire that claimed the lives of three, including a ground-breaking physical therapist. 

 

The search concluded Thursday shortly before noon, nearly 24 hours after the blaze started. The house, which belonged to George and Celia Robson, has been declared a total loss. 

 

Officials confirmed that the bodies of Celia Robson, 92, her grandson Samuel Morris, 23, and the Robsons' care-giver Geraldine Rice, 48, were recovered at the scene. George Robson, 89, was outside of the house when firefighters arrived, and was transported to Oktibbeha County Hospital Regional Medical Center.  

 

Investigators believe Morris and Rice died in an heroic attempt to get Mrs. Robson out of the burning house. They believe the two had managed to get Mr. Robson out of the home before returning to rescue Mrs. Robson, only to succumb to the fire in the effort. 

 

"It was an heroic act,'' said Chadd Garnett, Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy. Garnett said the fire is still under investigation. 

 

Celia Robson, a long-time physical therapist at Mississippi State's Longest Student Health Center, was renowned for her innovative techniques and her focus on water therapy. Her passion for water therapy, especially in her later years, spilled over into her home, where she had an indoor pool constructed so she could see patients privately.  

 

"She was committed to physical rehab, yes, but she was cutting edge, too," said Dr. Robert Collins, one of Robson's former colleagues at MSU.  

 

Robson was the first physical therapist to come to MSU, and after she retired in 1988, the university honored her service by naming the physical therapy wing in the Longest Student Health Center in her honor.  

 

Rice, of 2210 Williams Rd. in Starkville, was employed as the Robson's care-giver and was reportedly there working at the time of the fire. She also served as a volunteer fire fighter in District 5 for a number of years.  

 

Little information is known about Morris, the Robson's grandson, other than he had come to Starkville from California, reportedly to go to school at MSU. However, a search in student records revealed no student by that name.  

 

George Robson is reported to be in stable condition at OCH, where family members have gathered. 

 

Three people were reported missing when first responders arrived at 36 Bardwell Road at 11:57 Wednesday morning. 

 

Oktibbeha County Fire Services Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said the large wooden house, located not far off Black Jack Road, was fully engulfed when the East Oktibbeha County Fire Department arrived. 

 

It took several hours to extinguish the flames enough to begin a search, which extended late into the night and continued the next morning. 

 

Rosenhan said six of the state's fire marshals -- including Ricky Davis, the state's chief deputy fire marshal -- arrived in Starkville Wednesday and have been participating in the investigation and cleanup.  

 

"This is the worst fire I have probably ever been a part of in my checkered career," Rosenhan said.  

 

The State Fire Marshal will have a report with the cause of the fire, but Rosenhan added that it may be several weeks before any information is released. 

 

"That is typical for them," Rosenhan said. "They follow a strict protocol."