DENHAM SPRINGS – State Fire Marshal Butch Browning launched an investigation into the cause of a mobile home fire which killed a man and his 7-year-old granddaughter just before midnight Nov. 15.
Firefighters from Livingston Parish Fire Protection District 5 arrived at the scene 11:31 p.m. – three minutes after they got the call – for the two-alarm blaze on Curry Davis Road, off La. 16 and a half-mile south of Cockerham Road, according to District 5 Fire Chief Joe Koczrowski.
The two other inhabitants – the grandmother and the 13-year-old granddaughter – escaped from the home. Both suffered severe burns, but the injuries were not life-threatening, he said.
Paramedics from Acadian Ambulance brought the grandmother to the Baton Rouge General Medical Center Burn Unit. A helicopter flew the older granddaughter to the LSU-Shreveport Burn Unit.
State law require an investigation by the Office of the State Fire Marshal on any fire which results in a fatality.
Firefighters from two District 5 stations remained on the scene more than four hours.
The 13-year-old granddaughter tried to extinguish the fire herself before she tried to call 911, Koczrowski said. She eventually ran approximately 100 yards to the house next door to seek help.
“It was definitely a delayed call, which slowed down the process,” he said. “The poor girl was probably in a state of panic – maybe in a state of shock – when she ran for help.”
The grandfather and the 7-year-old died on the scene, Koczrowski said.
“The poor little girl never woke up … she died from smoke inhalation, no doubt,” he said. “The grandfather was on the kitchen, apparently trying to crawl out.”
Smoke traveled throughout the house, but fire did not spread into the bed rooms.
The fire itself was not large. It took only 400 gallons of water to douse the flames, according to Koczrowski.
“That’s an exceptionally small amount of water,” he said.
Smoke caused most of the damage to the home.
“The fire started in the living room – that’s a given – and smoke, honestly, is what killed the grandfather and the little girl,” he said. Smoke and heat are deadly combination.
“You don’t even have to get hit with the fire to burn your skin off – the radiant heat at 1,500 degrees is enough to do that,” Koczrowski said.
The call to firefighters all but ruled out the chance of saving the inhabitants, Koczrowski said.
“If we had been standing outside when our pagers went off, it still would’ve been too late,” he said. “When the pagers went off, it was too late.”
Next-door neighbor Mervin Fontenot described the girl’s desperate attempt for help.
The 13-year-old girl knocked furiously in hopes she could waken someone, he said.
“She was obviously in a very stressful mood, and for a moment I thought the door was coming down,” Fontenot said. “I told my wife I thought someone was breaking in, so I was two seconds away from grabbing my pistol.
“When I opened the door, she just fell to the floor and yelled, “Mr. Mervin, help my poppy, help my poppy,” he said.
Fontenot said the scorching heat stopped him from trying to open the door. He knocked the door open, but the flames shot out the opening.
He walked into the house, but did not get a response from the inhabitants.
“The flames were whipping,” Fontenot said. “If I would’ve gotten a response, I would’ve jumped in.
“I didn’t get a response, so I just stayed back,” he said. “I just shut the door because the flames were just shooting out.”
He described a noise which “somebody or something moving around, hitting the wall or falling.”
“I think it was the grandfather trying to get the little 7-year-old,” Fontenot said.
He described the friendship with his neighbors.
“He liked to go fishing on weekends, and he would always bring me back some fish,” Fontenot said. “He was a very good neighbor.”
Glenda Fontenot said she said her neighbors led a peaceful life.
“We saw them every day, every time we looked out that window,” she said. “They were quiet, modest and did not have loud parties or drinking,”
Keller Williams realtor Tammy Bryant, who rented out the property for the mobile home, gave a similar description.
“They were just really good people,” she said. “I’ve cried all morning.”
Koczrowski dispelled a Baton Rouge TV station’s report that the home did not have active smoke detectors.
“To make a statement that there were no active smoke detectors was incorrect,” he said. “The smoke detectors were hot and melted, and you could see where they were hooked up to the ceiling.
“There was electric power was in the house, but they were burned beyond knowing if they were working or not,” Koczrowski said.
The mobile home was a total loss, but it could have withstood some of the fire damage.
“This wasn’t your typical mobile home,” Koczrowski said. “It had sheet rock walls and was a better built mobile home – not just an old tin can.
“In reality, the fire was extremely hot, extremely fast as far as generating heat,” he said. “It’s not that the trailer burned to the ground.”
He could not immediately recall the last fire-related fatality in Livingston Parish. In fact, it was the first fire-related fatality for many of his firefighters.
“It’s been hard on my guys,” Koczrowski said. “I have a couple I’ll have to sit down with over a few days to counsel and maybe get them outside counseling, if they need it.
“One of the firefighters has a 7-year-old and a baby, so it’s been pretty rough on him,” he said. “What makes this really sad everyone for is that hit all had to happen so close to the holidays.”