HILLARYVILLE — A mobile home fire near an unmanned fire station off La. 22 late Sunday killed two brothers, ages 4 and 6, leaving family members grieving Monday. State and Ascension Parish fire officials are still investigating the cause.
Dimani Elder, 6, and Kevin “Dussie” Porter, 4, were familiar to the firefighters stationed next door to their home, and Dimani was often allowed to ride his bike in the fire station parking lot, said Fifth Ward Assistant Chief Tarrell Milan.
Fifth Ward Fire Chief Peter Roblin said firefighters found the mobile home at corner of Galaxy Boulevard and La. 22 in flames and had water going within a few minutes of a 911 call from the children’s mother, Nicole Lucas, at 11:48 p.m. Sunday.
Lucas, 35, who said she went out Sunday to pick up roach spray while her children slept, said she broke out a window for her two daughters to escape after she returned to the burning, smoke-filled home but could not save her sons.
“You couldn’t see nothing,” Lucas said. “I was calling for them.”
Donovea Elder, 12, the oldest child of Nicole Lucas, said she was sleeping Sunday in the mobile home and was awakened by smoke and could not breathe. She said she took her brothers to her mother’s bathroom to get air and began screaming for her mom.
Lucas, who had returned to the mobile home at that point, told her daughter to go out the window in the bedroom, Donovea Elder said.
She said she and her brothers went to that window.
“So I had Dimani and Dussie’s hands, and when I jumped out the window, they couldn’t jump with me,” Donovea Elder said, as tears rolled down her cheeks and her aunt Orelia Elder, of Darrow, stood beside her.
Donovea Elder, who has one arm bandaged from a cut from the broken window, said her sister, Donvonica Lucas, 10, was able to follow her out the window.
Donvonica Lucas was taken to the hospital Monday morning after suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation and she was expected to return home Monday afternoon, Orelia Elder said.
Lucas’ father, Lionel Elder, 61, said that from inside his house, he heard screams and saw a young man whom he did not know trying to get the boys out.
Elder said he used his garden hose on the burning mobile home until firefighters arrived.
“We didn’t even get in the trailer,” he said.
Roblin, the fire chief, said the boys’ bodies were found inside the mobile home.
Milan, the assistant fire chief, said donations for the family can be made by calling (225) 323-4650.
Roblin said 22 firefighters from 5th Ward and three other parish departments responded to the fire along with four fire trucks.
Roblin said the volunteer department has paid personnel on duty during the week days and only during daytime hours on the weekend.
The station along La. 22 was not manned at the time of the fire and firefighters had to respond from home or work, he said.
The mobile home in the Hillaryville community has a street address of 5035 Galaxy Blvd., Darrow.
The home is across Galaxy from the main station of the volunteer 5th Ward Fire Department.
Nicole Lucas’ brother, Lindsey Lucas, 37, who lives in a trailer behind his dad’s house on Galaxy, said it seemed to take firefighters 30 minutes to get water going after trucks hooked up to a hydrant.
Lindsey Lucas said he did not time the response.
Roblin and State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning Jr. disputed that account. Roblin said firefighters were on scene by 11:54 p.m. and had water going shortly afterward with no problems.
“For an outsider looking in, it looks likes it’s forever, you know, and what seems to be a second could be minutes in an outsider’s view,” Roblin said.
Browning said the fire remains under investigation but officials have so far gotten no indication that the blaze is suspicious. He said a source of the fire has not been identified.
Browning also noted that there were no working smoke alarms were in the home.
“It’s all about smoke detectors. That’s what it’s about. It could have changed the whole equation,” Browning said. “Those smoke detectors wake people up and get them out.”
Fifth Ward shares in sales tax revenue that Ascension Parish government provides to the over-arching parish Fire Protection District No. 1. Fifth Ward also receives donations from the Pelican Point neighborhood, Roblin said.
Fire District 1 officials are preparing to seek voter approval for a long-sought 15-mill property tax with special parcel fees to create a fully paid, 24-hour-per-day force, including in 5th Ward.
Officials had planned to have that tax on the ballot Dec. 8 but delayed it because the measure failed to get U.S. Justice Department approval in time. The tax is set for the May 4 ballot.
When asked, Roblin said it is unlikely the station could have been manned in time for the fire Sunday if residents had been able to vote on and approve the tax on Dec. 8.
“If the tax would have passed, would we have had everything in order? No probably not, but moving in the right direction,” he said.
Browning said the bigger issue was not the department’s response time but smoke alarms in every home, noting the fire was “well on its way” by the time firefighters were called and able to arrive.
“I think the early warning smoke alarm is what every home has to have and immediately notifying a fire department when you discover there is a fire,” Browning said.