Local News

Authorities: Deadly Onslow Fire Ruled Accidental

Posted February 17, 2004

— An Onslow County woman is hospitalized and four children are in critical condition after the mobile home they lived in caught fire Wednesday. Six children died.

The children listed in critical condition are being treated at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill. Lisa Jones, 35, and one of the children injured in the fire, were expected to be released Thursday from Onslow Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, said Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown.

Jones, her 10 children and a grandchild lived in the single-wide mobile home in the Sherwood Mobile Home Park.

Onslow County Emergency Management officials said the fire started around 1:15 a.m., killing children ages 15, 14, 12, 2 months and 1 month. The sixth person who died was a child whose age was not available.

Neighbor Delores McKay said she was working at her home computer when she looked out her window and saw smoke coming from the rented, three-bedroom mobile home.

Officials said the fire started in the 1,064-square-foot mobile home when a 11-year-old-boy ignited an incense candle. The flames spread to the furniture and the curtains. The boy reportedly panicked and ran out of the house. When he went back to warn his family, it was too late.

"It's the worst we've ever had in Onslow County. It's the absolute worst. We call it catastrophic," Fire Marshal Don Decker said.

Authorities have not decided whether they will charge the 11-year-old in the incident. A decision may come next week.

Jessie Oates said he lost four of his children in the fire. Three of them are identified as 14-year-old Doreen Oates Jr., 13-year-old Jessie Oates Jr. and 12-year-old Quanisha Oates.

"Why it had to happen to them, I don't know," Oates said.

Sheriff Ed Brown said four of the victims died at the scene but said he was not sure if the other two victims died on the way to a hospital or at a medical center. The identities of the other children have not been released.

McKay said she hopped onto a heat pump to try to pull a 6-year-old boy through a window she had broken but could not lift him. McKay's son, 39-year-old brick mason Baxter Bates, took her place and lifted the boy out.

"It was just black smoke. It was all you could see, I mean, you could hear the kids screaming," Bates said.

The children were good kids, said McKay, describing the mobile home park where she has lived nearly two years as a decent neighborhood.

Park manager Bridget Hendges established a fund to help the family at a branch of RBC Centura Bank in Jacksonville, Brill said.

Decker said the majority of the victims were asleep, but that two working smoke detectors were heard by neighbors outside the mobile home. He said neighbors also heard people inside thrashing around in an area where bodies were recovered, indicating that smoke and gas claimed them before they could escape.

Before firefighters arrived at the park, Decker said, neighbors used their garden hoses in a vain effort to fight the flames.

Authorities said a closet in the mobile home was converted into a third bedroom. Currently, there is no limit as to how many people can live in a rented structure in Onslow County. Onslow County lawmakers had been looking to create a law that would limit the number of occupants.

Officials say it was not the first fire this week at the park. On Monday, firefighters responded to a mobile home fire about a block away. Decker said it appeared to be caused by a candle.

Photographer:

Jay Jennings

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