UPDATED: Four die in Churchville mobile-home fire - Waynesboro News Virginian: News

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UPDATED: Four die in Churchville mobile-home fire

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Posted: Saturday, December 22, 2012 12:13 pm | Updated: 11:00 pm, Sat Dec 22, 2012.

Four people, including a 9-year-old boy, died as a result of a fire Friday night at a mobile home near Churchville, authorities said Saturday.

The Virginia State Police identified the deceased as Charles E. Stokes Jr., 40, and Sharon E. Stokes, 47, and their son, Matthew J. Stokes, 9. A grandmother, Wilda J. Stokes, also died.

Lewis G. Stokes, 67, husband of Wilda Stokes, survived the blaze and was taken to Augusta Health, where he was treated and released.

The fire’s cause and origin had not been determined Saturday, state police said, but six fire departments were on the scene for five hours from Friday night into Saturday morning investigating, cleaning and making sure no hot spots flared up, said Swoope Volunteer Fire Company Chief Kevin Wilkes.

Wilkes said his department was dispatched to the fire on Bolling Heights Lane about 10 p.m. Friday, as he and several other firefighters were headed to a late dinner.

An engine and tanker from Swoope traversed the four miles to the fire scene near Churchville.

Wilkes said the initial report was of a “large orange glow” coming from the top of the hill.

He said the quick response of his agency and the Churchville Fire Department contained the damage to the 70-foot-long mobile home. Walls were left standing because of the firefighters’ response and quick extinguishing of the fire.

However, Wilkes said someone who escaped from the mobile home tipped off firefighters that people were still inside.

“We put together an attack team with thermal-imaging cameras,” he said.

They went inside the narrow single-wide home. Four people were brought outside, including three who died at the scene. A fourth died en route to the hospital, Wilkes said.

Charles E. Stokes Sr. said his daughter heard on a police scanner that the home of his brother, Lewis Stokes, was on fire. Family members tried to call the residence but couldn’t reach anyone.

Charles Stokes Sr. said his brother was “outside with the water hose” but that the “faucet thing was frozen.”

Reflecting on the sad events, he said, “I couldn’t believe it. I live in a manufactured home. A lot of people live in manufactured homes. I just couldn’t believe that this happened because, well, he is my brother.”

He said his grandson, Matthew, was a “good kid” who was an “A student” at Beverley Manor Elementary School.

“I can’t tell you how I’m feeling,” Stokes said. “I haven’t talked to my brother yet. I was told he had no insurance. It’s going to be hard on him. I’ll have to do whatever I can do to help him. Families have to stick together.”

Churchville resident Darrell Campbell said he has known the Stokes family all of his life.

“They were just nice, hard-working class people,” he said. “Just nice people. They never bothered any people. Really pleasant people. They were hard-working, American people just trying to make a living.”

In addition to the Churchville and Swoope departments, other agencies helping with the fire were Augusta County, Staunton, Mount Solon and Verona.

Wilkes said counselors from Augusta County arrived on the scene early Saturday to talk to firefighters about the traumatic blaze. The Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad also provided service.

Wilkes said firefighters will receive a full debriefing today on what happened Friday night.

As the fire chief described, Angelique Greene, who works at Jake’s Convenience Store less than a mile from the scene, said she saw a “glowing” when she was closing the business Friday night.

She said she had never seen such big flames, though she had witnessed six or eight fires in the past four or five years.

“I just think it is really tragic,” said Greene, who noted that customers were asking lots of questions about the fire Saturday. “Christmas will never be the same for that family again.”

***

Craig Williams, the deputy fire chief of the Churchville Volunteer Fire Department & Rescue Squad, was on the scene over the night with scores of others as a mobile home fire killed four people near Churchville. The fire was on Bolling Heights lane. 

According to Williams, one of the individuals that died was a nine-year-old child. Williams said that the fire is under investigation, but it is believed to have started on the front porch. 

"We alerted everybody coming in that we had an entrapment," Williams said. "We tried to suppress the fire quickly and search."

Three of the four individuals who died lost their lives inside the home. One person died on the way to the hospital. Each person died due to smoke inhalation. 

"There were no burns," Williams said. 

The cause of the fire is not known at this time. 

"Just from where the bulk of the fire was, on the back porch of the house," Williams said as to where it appears to have started."That is what everybody is leading towards. That is where it appeared that the origin was. The investigators are going back out there today and dealing with the family...It was what I would consider a substantial fire. We had a lot of of personnel."

The individuals were at one end of the trailer, according to Williams."

"They weren't overcome by fire, they were overcome by smoke. They passed from smoke inhalation....The fire and the smoke was between them and the egress point. We tried to get as much as smoke cleared down. This is one that nobody every prepares themselves enough for."

Family of the victims are being notified and names have not yet been released.

"It's just an unfortunate situation all the way around," Williams said. "It just goes to show that it can happen so quickly, especially in a small residence like that. Once is evolves, nobody can sit back and think you can make it out quickly. Once it gets going in a structure like that, it will rapidly spread."

Now, investigators are trying to put the pieces together while family and personnel try to recover. 

"This is a devastating hit to any fire department," Williams said. "You can never prepare yourself for something like this. You always take it personally. When you arrive, you take interest in those people involved in the incident. They become your top priority...There is going to be a debriefing held for all the personnel involved [tomorrow] We are going to try and speak to somebody about it that make sure we are good with it and offer any assistance to the personal on the scene to help get through it. My thoughts and prayers are with this family. You cannot imagine losing yuor family period, much less this close to Christmas. It's got to be devastating."

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