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Man dies in house blaze
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An elderly Covington man died in a blaze that consumed his historic home early Sunday morning.

The body of Garland G. Umberger, 73, was found just three feet from the front door of his home at 316 Elks Club Road, according to Newton County Fire Department Deputy Chief Tim Smith.

Umberger was apparently trying to escape the flames before being overcome, according to Smith. An autopsy report found Umberger had died from smoke inhalation.

The fire, which originated in the living room, appeared to be accidental and might have started by Umberger falling asleep in his chair while smoking, said Smith.

Umberger had moved the house, originally built in 1855, from Eatonton in Putnam County 12 years ago and had done extensive renovations on the home, but had no smoke detectors.

"If there had been a smoke detector at this residence, this gentleman might not be deceased," said Smith.

He emphasized that anyone who needed a smoke detector or had concerns or questions about smoke detectors could contact the fire department at (770) 784-2116. The fire department provides free smoke detectors and even goes to residences to inspect and install them.

New homes and buildings are required by the building code to have a smoke alarm in each bedroom, he said, but older buildings are exempted from later code requirements.

First responders arrived on the scene of the one-alarm blaze at about 1 a.m. Sunday, after receiving a call from a passing neighbor. By that time the house was already fully engulfed. Flames were coming from the roof into the tree tops, said Smith.

 The fire was under control within one hour, with up to 15 firefighters on the scene, and fire personnel were at the house until 10 a.m., said Smith.

At the site, only the burned shell of the front porch of the antebellum home remained.

 Though the sour smell of charcoal hung in the air, the front yard shrubbery remained green and neatly trimmed and Umberger's tan truck still sat in the driveway, looking ready to go.

Neighbors knew little about the man.

Tim Hilley, who lives across the street, could only describe him as a man who kept to himself, was recently divorced and came out into the yard to garden occasionally.