Garrison man dies while trying to put fire out

photo of Bill Smith, courtesy of his family
photo of Bill Smith, courtesy of his family

NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - By Whitney Grunder - email

NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - The Nacogdoches County Sheriff's Office has confirmed a Garrison man has died in an outside fire which got out of control.

Nacogdoches County Sheriff Thomas Kerss said Bill Franklin Smith, 78, was burning brush outside his home on County Road 282 when the fire got out of control, around 2 p.m. Kerss said initial reports indicate Smith tried to put the fire out and either suffered smoke inhalation or a heart attack and died.

Smith's body was found in the yard with a rake in his hands.

The fire eventually burned the house. Kerss said the dry conditions played a part in the fire getting out of control.

"It certainly played a part in it," Kerss said. "Even when the county is not under a burn ban, you still have to evaluate the circumstances to determine if you can safely do so or not."

Kerss said Smith lived at the house by himself.

His daughter, Shem Delafield, says it's ironic "I love you," would be his last words to her.

"He said he loved me and that was totally out of character for Daddy," Delafield said. "Daddy didn't say that for us because he thought it was unfair to my mom. He loved her more than anything and if we said 'I love you Daddy,' his response was 'Yeah boy,' and that was his way."

"Dad was in bad health," Delafield said. "He had heart problems previously so the autopsy will let us know for sure if it was smoke inhalation or if it was a heart attack."

Despite other family members' concerns, Smith was adamant about living on his own after his wife died 3 years ago.

"He didn't want home health to come in, he wanted to be as independent as he could until the end," Delafield said.

Family friend Ryan King showed up when he learned of Smith's death. He says his reputation as a true family man could be seen across Garrison.

"If every dad was like he was, if every grandfather was like he was that put family first, than this world would be so much a better place and he's really helped us try to model what we want our community to be," said King, who is associate pastor at Holly Springs Baptist Church.

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