A single woman and her four children are without a home after the woman’s 8-year-old son started a fire in his bed while playing with a lighter Monday morning.
This is the second time in less than two months a child has started a blaze while playing with fire. On May 8, a 3-year-old boy nearly burned down his Payson home after playing with matches in his bunk bed.
Luckily, no one was seriously injured in either fire and firefighters were able to keep the flames from spreading to the rest of the homes. In both instances, the community stepped forward, offering help beyond either family’s expectations.
After Monday’s fire, a firefighter who recently lost his home even donated a hotel room.
Monday’s fire started around 8:25 a.m. in the 190 block of Cornerstone Way as Jennifer Hughes, 30, was asleep with her 3-month-old daughter Dezirae in the living room of her rented singlewide trailer in Star Valley. Her sons, Cameron, 7, and Jacob, 5, were also asleep in the living room.
Hughes oldest son David, 8, was alone in the boys’ bedroom playing with a lighter he said he found at church. Sitting on the floor near his bed, David held the lighter up and flipped it on. When the underside of the bed caught fire, David went into the living room and woke Hughes.
“He said, ‘Mommy my room is on fire,’” said Hughes’ mother Paula Plante.
Confused, Hughes rushed into the bedroom, which was filling with smoke, pushed the mattress aside and flipped the box spring over. As soon as she flipped the mattress over, the fire took off.
Hughes grabbed her children and fled the home, calling 911 and then Plante once outside.
“My first instinct was to grab all the kids,” Hughes said. “I was really, really scared.”
Leaving her children outside with neighbors, Hughes went back inside the trailer and grabbed as many pictures as she could find.
“I didn’t care about anything else,” she said.
Plante meanwhile left her work at Payson Regional Home Health, and sped to her daughter’s home. Plante said this was not the first time David had played with fire. Once when Plante found David playing with a lighter at her home, she lectured him on the dangers of fire.
When the Hellsgate Fire Department arrived on scene, light smoke was billowing from the trailer. Within two minutes, “a fire broke out in the front bedroom and engulfed that room,” said Hellsgate Chief Gary Hatch.
Firefighters entered the trailer and contained the blaze to the boys’ bedroom and attached bathroom. By 8:35 a.m., the fire was out. Four fire engines from Payson, Houston Mesa and Hellsgate responded.
The trailer suffered smoke and water damage throughout and Hatch believes it is a total loss. Hughes did not have insurance and had only lived in the trailer since February. Before moving into the trailer, Hughes and her children were homeless, living at the Time Out Shelter. Hughes said she escaped an abusive relationship in the Valley for a better life in Payson.
Although she is homeless again, Hughes said with the strength from her church, parents and community she knows they will be OK.
“I am very, very blessed and thankful nothing happened to the children,” she said. “After we got out, my first thought was it could have been worse.”
One of the only items to survive the fire unscathed was a children’s Bible, which Plante found lying on the couch next to a pile of burned shoes.
“Everything around it was burnt or soaked,” she said, “it is remarkable.”
Since all of the boys’ clothes were destroyed, the Red Cross and the family’s church are collecting clothing.
Plante said she is extremely thankful for the generosity that the fire departments, Red Cross, church, Mike Weller and the community have extended her daughter’s family.
“I can’t say enough,” Plante said crying.
Mike Weller, Houston Mesa volunteer lieutenant and EMT, who lost his Mesa del Caballo home Thursday, donated several days’ stay at the Best Western Inn, which were given to him after his fire. The Red Cross is also donating several days at the inn.
A bank account in Jennifer Hughes’ name has been set up for donations at National Bank of Arizona. Drop clothing and household donations off at Payson Regional Home Health, 708 E. Highway 260, suite A1. The family needs boys clothing sizes 14, 10 and 7, baby clothing size three months, women’s clothing size 2x and size two diapers.
Mesa del fire
Weller’s home was engulfed in flames Thursday. Fire officials believe from Weller’s terminally ill wife smoking while using a home oxygen unit. That fire quickly spread to the rest of the doublewide mobile home before firefighters could save it.
Houston Mesa Fire Chief Chuck Jacobs said a neighbor saved Mrs. Weller, who was frozen with fear in the home’s entryway, by throwing her over his shoulder and carrying her out of danger.
That man also tried to help put the fire out with a garden hose.
“If he hadn’t been there she could have been burned,” Jacobs said.
After the fire, the Red Cross put Weller up at the Best Western for two nights. The Best Western comped an additional night and several Rim Country residents donated several more nights.
On Monday, Weller no longer needed to stay at the inn because a Valley woman offered to let him housesit her Payson home while she is away. Mrs. Weller, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was taken to hospice care.
Weller, who works at Napa Auto Parts Store, told Jacobs the community has stepped forward and given him so much.
In addition to a temporary home, a donation jar at Napa collected several hundred dollars and residents donated clothing and household products.