Lawton_To awaken in the middle of the night to flames crawling up your walls, and your house filling with smoke, is one of people's worst nightmares. What may be worse is a feeling of helplessness if you don't know what to do if a fire breaks out in your home.
A Lawton woman lived through a house fire, and was able to save her oldest grandson. But, her 16-year-old daughter and two grandchildren did not survive. Although it was difficult for her to recount what happened that night, Linda Ward wanted to share her story with the hope that it will educate others on what to do when fire chooses you.
A space heater went up in flames in Linda's home, lighting the living room on fire, and sending smoke billowing through the house and into the back bedrooms where her teenage daughter and two young grandchildren were sleeping. Though the fire frightened her awake, Linda says she kept her wits about her. "We were not panicking, because it was deceptive," she said. "We did not know that it was going to turn out the way it did. It was serious, it was urgent, but there was just no thought that anybody was going to die that night."
Lawton Assistant Fire Marshal Tim Taylor says that if you awaken to a fire, the first thing you should do is drop to the ground. "You want to roll out of bed, and stay low until you're outside," he says. "Because down low is where the air is cooler, you can see better, and you can breath easier." Linda says she and her family didn't know that.
When Linda woke up, she saw her daughter in the hallway and told her to get the babies. She says her daughter ran to the back of the house, and into the worst of the smoke. Linda grabbed her eight-year-old grandson and ran out of the house. "We went through the kitchen and everything was dark, we went through the kitchen door which would have been that way," she remembers.
Her family didn't have an escape plan, and she assumed her daughter was escaping the burning home with the younger children right along with her. Linda says she tried to get back into the house, but the smoke was just too strong. "You couldn't breathe, when you stepped in," she said. "I pulled back, I put my head back in and once again, you couldn't get back in. I've wondered about that - I've asked the fire marshal about that, because you continuously read stories, or you hear stories, about people being able to get back in to the house to save their animals, or save other family members," said Linda. "I always was wondering and concerned, why come I couldn't get back in?"
Taylor says an escape route is essential. "If everybody meets at that designated family meeting place, then there's not going to be a situation where someone is tempted to go back in," he says. "Because the one thing you never ever do is go back into a burning building - because you're just about guaranteeing you're not gonna come back out."
Linda's neighbors say they heard her screaming for her babies that night, and that she broke out every window trying to get to them. "I realize, she's not at any window," she recalled. "There's smoke coming out there, and it's just too quiet. Nobody was saying anything, and so that's when - I didn't hear any fire trucks, or no sirens and everything - and that's when I really, really, you know, realized, how serious it was." All three of the children who lost their lives in the fire died from smoke inhalation. "I don't like to think about, you know, what they went through at that time," Linda said.
Though many may think flames are to blame in when victims of fires die, smoke inhalation is actually the number one killer in house fires. "The main effect in the smoke that's debilitating is carbon monoxide," says Taylor. "It affects your motor skills and your ability to think - which are the two things you need the most if you're trying to escape."
But, it's not only smoke that those caught in a house fire are inhaling. Synthetic materials catch on fire, too, releasing toxic gases into the air. "So you don't want to stand straight up, and get a big lung full - then down you go," says Taylor.
Linda says she believes her grandchildren never woke up. "What parent should ever have to feel that they failed their child? They don't have to do that if you get prepared," said Linda. "You can't avoid, some things are just going to be - if it's going to be then it's going to be. But, at least know that you've done everything that you could to prevent it."