A man died and a woman barely escaped with her life Wednesday in an early morning blaze in a Star Valley RV park.
Ruth Butcher, 88, was sleeping in the forward area of a fifth wheel in the Lamplighter RV Park when she smelled smoke and heard popping noises coming from the rear of the trailer at about 3:20 a.m., said Lt. Tim Scott with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
When Butcher opened a bedroom door, smoke and flames were everywhere, including where her son, Stanley Slaughter, 64, was sleeping on the couch.
Unable to reach Slaughter and barely able to make it to the trailer’s door, Butcher fled the trailer and raced to a neighbor’s home where she told them to call for help.
Within minutes, Hellsgate firefighters arrived, witnesses reported. But it was too late.
Flames 70 feet high were already shooting from the trailer, making it impossible for firefighters to enter.
The fire spread quickly to nearby structures and trees and threatened nearly a dozen surrounding homes — all of which firefighters had evacuated.
Don Wilkerson, who was sleeping in a nearby RV, said he heard several large pops and explosions that he thought were fireworks or gunfire. On instinct, Wilkerson grabbed his camera, ran outside and snapped a few photographs of the blaze.
As other residents of the quiet community filed outside their homes in shock, firefighters raced to cut power off to the property.
Although APS shut power off, fire crews didn’t realize several solar panels were still supplying electricity to the trailer. One firefighter received quite a jolt, said Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch.
As firefighters worked, several explosions went off in the trailer. Slaughter kept ammunition on the property as well as a stockpile of canned goods, Hatch said. Slaughter was also on oxygen.
Within 30 minutes, Hellsgate and Payson firefighters had the fire out.
“During suppression efforts, it was confirmed that a body had been located in the rear portion of the trailer where the couch was located,” Scott said. “Several trees, a shed belonging to a neighbor in the rear and multiple carport tents were damaged.”
In the aftermath, officials learned Slaughter had just returned from Payson Care Center and was staying with his mother.
Slaughter owned a trailer next door to his mother as well as a storage trailer.
Slaughter had been sleeping on his mother’s couch and could not get around due to a medical condition.
Hatch believes Slaughter, a heavy smoker, fell asleep with a cigarette still lit and so sparked the fire. Gila County detectives, however, are still working to establish a definitive cause.
Paramedics took Butcher to the hospital for smoke inhalation. No one else was injured.