Henderson, N.C. — Firefighters didn't find a smoke detector in the Henderson rental home where four people were badly burned in a fire over the weekend, Henderson Fire Chief Danny Wilkerson said Wednesday.
Barbara Ann Lassiter, Lorenzo Bustos and some of the couple's four children were asleep when fire broke out in the living room of 210 Carolina Ave. early Saturday morning.
Lassiter, Bustos and their 3-year-old daughter, Jessica Bustos, were in critical condition Wednesday at the Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals. Michael Moncada, 11, was also burned in the fire, but was treated and released from UNC.
Wilkerson said he thinks the outcome would have been different if there was a working smoke detector in the home.
"We couldn't find any remains or any evidence that smoke detectors were in the home," he said. "Smoke detectors save lives."
The family rents the home from Prestigious Housing, a Henderson-based realty company, run by Greg Stevenson. Stevenson said he installed a smoke detector when the family moved in 4 or 5 years ago.
State law requires landlords to ensure that a smoke detector is installed at the beginning of occupancy, but it does not require them to do any inspections to ensure the detector is in working order, unless a tenant notifies them of a problem.
"Once they move in, I don't try to babysit tenants. I wouldn't want (anybody) doing that if I'm paying rent," he said.
It is illegal for rental property tenants to damage or remove smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. A bill pending in the state legislature would require landlords to use tamper-resistant models of smoke detectors that run on lithium batteries, which have about a 10-year life span. The bill passed the Senate, but never made it past a House committee.
Stevenson said the news of the family's injuries was "very upsetting."
Michael Moncada and his two uninjured siblings, 12-year-old Tiffany Moncada and 3-year-old Alejando Bustos, have been placed in the care of their maternal grandfather, James Lassiter.
James Lassiter said his daughter was burned on 15 percent of her body, Lorenzo Bustos on 30 percent of his body and Jessica Bustos on 5 percent.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but James Lassiter said one of the children sparked the blaze while playing with a cigarette lighter.
A fund has been set up at the Henderson branch of the State Employees Credit Union for anyone wishing to make a donation to help the family replace hygiene items, clothing and furniture that were destroyed in the fire.