An early morning house fire claimed the lives of two children Friday despite valiant rescue efforts by neighbors to pull victims from the raging blaze.
Fire investigators were sifting through the charred interior of a three-story home at 943 E. South Temple seeking clues to the origins of the fire that killed a 14-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy.A third child, who was pulled limp and unconscious from the house by a neighbor who battled intense heat and dense smoke, is hospitalized along with her father, who suffered a broken shoulder trying to rescue other children. Two children escaped unscathed along with their mother.
The fire errupted about 6:30 a.m. at the home of John Clark. Neighbors, alerted by a jogger, notified the fire department and then ran to assist others who began battling the fire with garden hoses.
David Kamerath, a neighbor, climbed a garage and began breaking windows on a glassed-in sun porch used for a bedroom at the rear of the house.
"I just reached through and began feeling around. I felt that if anyone were in there they would be near the windows," Kamerath said. The search paid off when he located 6-year-old Laurn, who apparently had rolled off her bed unconscious.
"Something was holding her, so I kept one arm around her and used my other to move furniture," Kamerath said.
Kamerath said he propped the girl on his shoulder and carried her down to the ground where firefighters began first aid to revive her. Soon after, paramedics arrived and managed to get the girl breathing on her own.
Efforts to reach two other trapped children failed.
Five-year-old Peter Elliot Clark was found dead in a second-floor bedroom and a 14-year-old girl, identified as a house guest visiting from Texas, was found dead in a third-floor guest room.
Seven-month-old Timothy Clark suffered minor smoke inhalation and Jonathan Clark, 2, was uninjured. Their mother, Carol Clark, 36, also was uninjured.
Salt Lake Fire Battalion Chief Gordon Nicholl said fire crews who arrived about 6:30 a.m. found flames shooting out the front door like a blowtorch. He said acrid smoke was billowing from windows on all three floors and that heat was intense. He said the response was slowed somewhat as fire crews had to move neighbors away from the house.
Several neighbors said paramedic response was slow and that paramedics did not arrive until nearly 15 minutes after the fire crews were on the scene. Nicholl said one of the four firefighters who arrived on the first truck at 6:26 a.m. was a paramedic but was hindered in his efforts as firefighters had to move neighbors away from the house. "Once he ascertained what was needed, he placed a call for other paramedics," Nicholl said. A paramedic truck arrived at 6:38 a.m. and was followed by a second truck four minutes later.
Nicholl said it appears the fire started on the main floor of the house and followed a central staircase upward to the second and third floors. "We don't know how quickly it moved" or its cause, he said.
"Once we got inside the flames were knocked down in about three minutes," Nicholl added.
Neighbors are calling him a hero but Kamerath looks at it differently. "Naw," Kamerath shrugs. "I just did what I hope anyone else would do under the same circumstances."
But neighbors are applauding Kamerath's actions.
"He's a quiet man, but he knows how to take command," said one neighbor who didn't want to be identified. "He's a kind and good man - it's the kind of thing he would do."
Kamerath said he is pleased that his efforts may have saved one life but saddened at the loss his neighbors have suffered.
"I feel a great sense of sorrow over the loss of the children," he whispered. "I'm glad I was able to help one, but that does not mitigate the sense of loss."