Fire leaves family out cold

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2006

A mother and her two young children escaped a mobile home fire with only the clothes on their backs and then watched the flames consume their home as they stood in sub-zero temperatures Thursday afternoon.

According to Central Emergency Services, an unattended candle started the fire when it caught window drapes in the children’s room on fire and quickly spread along the combustible walls and ceilings of the mobile trailer, at 36050 Irons Ave., Soldotna.

The mother, Karena Jenkins, discovered the fire when the hallway fire detector sounded. Initially Jenkins thought the alarm went off due to some food she was cooking in the kitchen, but then spotted light smoke coming from the children’s room and the widow drapes entirely engulfed in flames, she said.

Jenkins attempted to stop the flames with a fire extinguisher, but had problems getting it to work. She evacuated with her children and called 911.

Within five minutes a CES engine arrived and reported that the flames were pushing through the front bedroom windows of the single-wide mobile home. In total, one engine, three tankers, a medic unit and four command vehicles responded to the incident, along with 13 personnel. The fire was declared under control within within 43 minutes.

The mobile home, built in 1975, sustained major fire damage to 80 percent of the structure and its contents. The remaining structure sustained major heat and smoke damage.

According to CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale, mobile homes built before 1976 are what firefighters call “three minute death traps.”

“(Jenkins) told me she was amazed at how fast the fire had progressed through the house,” Hale said.

One major reason mobile homes built before 1976 burn incredibly fast is they are walled with wood paneling rather than drywall, Hale said.

“It’s fortunate they had a smoke detector,” Hale said.

Jenkins said she last remembered looking at the clock when her husband left the house at 5 p.m., and according to 911 dispatch records, Jenkins called reporting the fire at 5:09 p.m.

“It was just so fast ... I couldn’t get the fire extinguisher to go. I think just because I was panicking,” Jenkins said. “It took me a second to realize I wasn’t going to have time to mess with the fire extinguisher.”

Jenkins, who works nights at the hospital, had just awakened and was wearing pajamas when the fire occurred. Her 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter were wearing only their underwear. Jenkins had only seconds to bundle them up before fleeing the home.

When CES arrived her son was wearing only underwear, a winter jacket and boots and her daughter only underwear, a snowsuit and boots.

Hale said the fire serves as a good reminder as to why it is important know how to operate an extinguisher, and be sure your extinguisher is operational, before a fire occurs.

Residential and commercial fire safety courses use the acronym PASS to help people remember how to operate fire extinguishers, he said.

The acronym is short for pull pin, aim nozzle and sweep side to side at the base of the fire.

Additionally, Hale cautioned that candles should never be left unattended or placed near anything combustible.

With the family displaced from their home, relatives and friends are assisting with housing and clothing needs, along with additional assistance coming from the American Red Cross. Donations for the Jenkins family can be dropped off at the American Red Cross in Kenai.

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