Local News

Overloaded Extension Cord Cause Of Deadly Chatham County House Fire

Posted June 12, 2002

— Investigators believe an overloaded extension cord may be to blame for a fire that took the lives of six members of a Silk Hope family early Tuesday.

Officials said the fire call came in at 12:04 a.m. The house is located at 3900 Silk Hope Road.

Victor Sanchez and his 2-year-old daughter, Augustina, managed to escape through a window and go to a neighbor's house for help.

The victims all died of smoke inhalation, Chatham County Fire Marshal Thomas Bender said.

Bender identified the victims as Sanchez' wife, Felipa, 33; daughter Stefania, 6; stepson Emmanuel Zagada, 13; stepson Ramone Zagada, 10; brother Hector Sanchez, 48; and Teodulfa Jimenez, 41, the children's aunt.

Bender said the fire started because a light-duty extension cord, stretched across the living room from the kitchen, was being used to power an air conditioner.

"It was too long and not heavy enough gauge for the draw of the appliance," he said. "It gets hotter and hotter because it can't carry the amperage of what the appliance is drawing."

Bender said the air conditioner had been running steadily for days as highs in the area reached the 90s.

"That little air conditioner was trying to cool that whole house," he said. The cord "melted right into the floor and ignited the couch above it.'"

Bender said a bed blocking a door prevented family members from escaping through the back of the house.

Investigators said the home did not have smoke detectors.

Family members said their culture kept them close together and led to a lot of people living under one roof.

Relative Deloris Mata, of Durham, said the hardest part for her is knowing that the tragedy could have easily been prevented through more awareness.

"I think to connect one of those air conditioners, you need a bigger or better cord, and we don't know that," she said.

Mata said better warnings in Spanish and English are necessary.

"I think a lot of people are going to learn from this," she said.

Neighbor Hugh Johnson, a former volunteer firefighter, said there is a great need for better education about fire hazards in the community.

"People don't take fire prevention and safety [seriously] enough. I think we need programs on safety for them," he said.

The children attended Silk Hope Elementary School, which is located near their home.

Tuesday was the last day of classes for students at the school. Instead of celebrating, students mourned the loss of their classmates. A crisis team was available to help students, staff and families.

The crisis team will also be available Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The family had been known to the Chatham County School System for several years as participants in a program to help migrant workers' children keep up with schoolwork.


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