Friday, July 20, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Fire report unsettling

The circumstances involving the deaths of a pregnant mother and her four children in a Jacksonville apartment remain as mysterious as they were back in March. That was when firefighters responded to call from a neighbor who smelled smoke. Firefighters arrived, knocked on the door and decided everything must be fine since no one was responding.

Firefighters were called back to the apartment a few hours later when the bodies were discovered by maintenance workers.

The cause of the fire is said to be an unattended stove, where Marilyn Beavers may have been making snacks for her children. Apparently the family fell asleep with the stove on and were killed a few hours later from smoke inhalation.

The evidence seems to show that the smoke alarm in the public housing complex may have failed to go off either because it had been tampered with or because it had long expired and should have been replaced much earlier.

That was the day the Jacksonville Fire Department responded to two fire calls only a couple of miles apart, one at Northeastern Avenue on the edge of the Foxwood subdivision near Hwy. 67/167 and the other at Max Howell Place, which houses low-income families.

The first fire at Foxwood restarted early in the morning on March 22, only hours after firefighters had thought they had succeeded in extinguishing the blaze.

Fortunately, no one was at home, but the smoke from that blaze may have confused firefighters when they answered a call at Max Howell after a resident reported smelling smoke.

Firefighters may have thought that the resident smelled the smoke from Foxwood, when in fact Beavers and her children were overcome by smoke only hours earlier.

A report by the state fire marshal concluded the family died before firefighters arrived. But what if the smoke detector had worked and alerted neighbors and the fire department?

The Jacksonville Housing Authority, which runs the complex, will not discuss the deaths with the media, apparently fearing a lawsuit by Beavers’ family.

Without putting blame on anyone, you have to ask if the housing authority should have inspected the apartment more often. Did someone cut or pull the wires before or after the fire? Was the smoke detector disabled so adults could smoke?

The mysterious circumstances surrounding this tragedy deserve a thorough investigation. The mayor does have the state investigating the fire department’s actions.

The housing authority remains silent, but the public has a right to know what happened that night and if lives would have been saved if the JHA, the city or even the neighbors had been more diligent in protecting the residents.