Colleen Eames, 66, spent Monday practicing climbing out of her bedroom window, her sister timing the escape.
“I think the longest was 40 seconds and then we did it a couple more times and got it down to 30 seconds,” said Eames’ sister, Kathy Eames. The sisters also put Vaseline on the lock for the window’s security bars to help them easily open the safety feature — one that can quickly turn into a hazard for residents trying to escape fires. This past weekend, Colleen Eames also installed two smoke alarms, devices she had not had in her home.
After the Jan. 2 fire that killed her next-door neighbors Ivory and Maryella Brown in their 78th Avenue home, Colleen Eames said, she is taking every step to ensure her safety — and hopes others are doing the same.
Baton Rouge Fire investigators spent several hours Tuesday morning combing through debris from a house fire before ultimately removing two bod…
The Browns were two of 10 people who died in house fires across the Baton Rouge area within the first two weeks of 2018, tragedies authorities have linked to unusually cold temperatures.
In response, officials launched an awareness campaign, offering free smoke detectors and safety tips; the campaign has generated the greatest response State Fire Marshal Chief H. “Butch” Browning said he has seen in his career.
In the first 12 days of the year, there were 772 requests to Browning’s office for smoke alarm installation across the state. Of those requests, 67 percent came from residents in East Baton Rouge Parish. Now, more than 2,500 alarms have been installed in 1,000 homes across the state, Browning said.
“It speaks to the fact that our citizens are listening,” said East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, who partnered with fire department chiefs and Browning on the project. “With the unfortunate and tragic deaths … I definitely believe that sent a signal to people to be very concerned about what was going on.”
With yet more forecasters of freezing temperatures, Browning's office has warned about using methods to heat homes that are proven to fire risks, like space heaters that are not properly monitored, ovens left on or open flames.
State Fire Marshal Chief Deputy Brant Thompson said the causes of the five fatal fires in the Baton Rouge region — two in the city and one each in Zachary, the Gardere area and Denham Springs — are still under investigation, although officials do not believe foul play is involved. Ten people died in those fires.
Across the state, Thompson said, investigators have been called to 14 fatal fires since Dec. 15, amounting to 23 deaths. He said investigators are confident half of those fires are related to heating equipment in some way; his office has connected four of those fires to the use of space heaters.
"No area in the state has been immune to the recent rash in fire deaths, but we have seen a particularly high number here around the capital area," Thompson said.
And while schools and government offices shut down Tuesday and Wednesday in Baton Rouge area amid the winter weather advisories, requests for smoke detectors kept rolling in.
Central Fire Department firefighters installed two smoke alarms in a home on Tuesday, bringing their total installation number to 180 since Jan. 4, said District Chief Derek Glover. St. George Fire Department on Tuesday checked already in-place alarms at a resident’s home, one of the daily requests they have had since Broome offered her office to help field requests.
While East Baton Rouge Parish offices are closed Tuesday and Wednesday, Broome said people can call the MOHSEP phone line for the devices at (225) 389-2100 or call the fire departments directly for help.
Once an alarm goes off, Browning said, residents only have about 60 seconds to get out of a house before smoke and heat can cause a person to pass out.
“If you don’t have a working smoke detector in your home, you shouldn't go to sleep,” Browning said. “I believe that in my heart.”
Three houses down on Iroquois Street from where a woman and two of her great-grandchildren died in a fire Jan. 5, Brenda Jarvis has made some changes to keep her three foster children as safe as possible.
Two children and an elderly woman were killed and two others were in critical condition Friday after an early morning house fire in Baton Roug…
“That devastated all of us,” Jarvis, 52, said of the fire deaths. “It just did something to me; it made me wake up for sure.”
Jarvis said she and her children made and practiced a fire escape plan. She also got new batteries for the smoke detectors she already had in their home, and added an additional device she received from fire officials.
Down the street, closer to where three crosses sit in the front yard of the home where Gloria Anderson, 77, Maylia Jackson, 7, and Michele Williams, 6, died Jan. 5, Ray Lucas said he still remembers that early morning when flames ravaged the home across from his.
Since that day, he said, he added three smoke detectors to his family’s home — a great improvement from none at all.
“It makes you think more about life,” Lucas, 37, said. “(The fire department) gave us one, but I bought two more.”
In addition to installing the detectors and practicing at least two different escape routes, Browning also advised that residents should not leave a space heater on when they aren’t there and awake to watch it. When using a fireplace, there shouldn’t be no more than three logs in the fire at a time.
Eames said she planned to spend Tuesday night in her 78th Avenue home bundled in extra layers, turning off all heat and not using the fireplace.
She has a constant reminder of fire danger next door, where only the blackened skeleton of her neighbors’ house remains, and some of that damage spread to her property. The right side of her car, now useless in her driveway, is heavily melted. A tree that sat near her property line now lies on the curb, singed. And the right side of her home, in certain places, shows smoke damage.
“I’m just traumatized what’s going on with those wires up there,” Eames said, pointing to some smoke damage on the side of her house near her electric meter, saying she'd rather be cold and safe.
“We don’t turn on anything over on this side of the house.”
An elderly woman died trapped on the second floor of her Denham Springs home when flames tore through the structure early Sunday morning durin…
Editors note: This story was updated to clarify that Eames' house suffered damage near her electric meter, not to her electric meter.