Family Loses All In Mobile Home Fire

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Darlene Martin had just begun her Monday morning shift at Jack-in-the-Box when she learned that her world was in the process of going up in smoke.

"I got a call from a neighbor saying my house was burning down," Martin said. "One of my managers drove me home, and we just watched the rest of it burn until there was nothing left but a roof on the ground."

By the time the fire had finished consuming the 29-year-old's rented Gisela mobile home, Martin said, "I lost everything I've owned since I was about 4 years old. It was all gone."

Also lost were the belongings of Martin's boyfriend, 21-year-old construction worker Sean Carey, and the clothing and toys of her twin 6-year-old sons, Corey and Cody Martin.

The loss included a 1981 Silverado pickup truck that was parked in the structure's carport. "It blew up," Martin said. "The fire was so hot it melted the frame."

According to Ed Tremblay, chief of Gisela's volunteer fire department, the blaze was almost certainly ignited by a malfunctioning pellet stove inside the mobile home. Payson Fire Marshal Jack Babb added that both fire and police department officials are "satisfied" that the blaze was not intentionally set.

"Because of the devastation at the site, we may never know for sure if it was the pellet stove that started the fire," Babb said. "But every indication we have so far is that it was."

Martin agrees. Several hours before dawn Monday morning, she and Carey awoke to find the mobile home filled by smoke emanating from the pellet stove.

"We got it all cleared out, and to the best of our knowledge, the fire in the stove was out," Martin said. "We were comfortable enough with it to go back to bed."

In the morning, before Martin and Carey left for work and the children were taken to school, "We made sure the auger was off and that the stove was cool to the touch," Martin said.

The Gisela Fire Department was dispatched to the fire at 9:38 a.m., Tremblay said, and by the time personnel arrived on the scene six minutes later, Martin's home was "pretty much 80 percent involved. Those mobile homes go so fast, it's unbelievable.

"We had some true concerns about a large propane tank that was close to the structure; we had to concentrate on that, to keep it cool, so we wouldn't have an explosion," Tremblay said. "Also, we had to keep the fire contained so that it wouldn't spread out into the wildlands."

Another concern was the pickup truck.

"Some of our personnel tried to move it, but it was locked up ... so we just had to let it go," the Gisela fire chief said. "Eventually, the tires and the gas tank exploded but the tank was pretty full, and they don't blow quite as spectacular when they're full. But it did add quite a bit of fuel to the fire."

By 10:30 a.m., the fire was contained "but still burning," Tremblay said. "We weren't trying to douse it; we were just trying to keep it from spreading. Out here, if we use up all our water, we're kind of useless."

Martin did manage to salvage two mementos from the ashes of her home.

"I saved part of a photo album, with some pictures of my boys' first birthday," she said, "and there was a Bible that was burnt on the outside but the pages inside weren't touched. That was amazing."

Both the Red Cross and the Gila County Community Action program have stepped in to help with vouchers for food and clothing, as well as to replace tools Carey needs for his employment, Martin said.

"We've also been told we'll be given help with a move-in deposit when we find another place to live," she said. For the time being, the four are staying with Martin's brother in Payson.

To help Sean Carey and Darlene, Corey and Cody Martin, contributions can be made at Compass Bank to account No. 0087826058.

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