Tuesday, June 2, 2015

More information about the Knight Island Fire

Reprinted from the Sun-Herald News online, 5-29-2015

Charlotte details response to Knight Island fire
   ENGLEWOOD — Neither the State Fire Marshal nor the Charlotte County Medical Examiner’s Office have released reports on the Knight Island fire that killed a mother, her son and their dog Sunday.
   Charlotte County Fire/ EMS, however, did release a report Thursday detailing the firefighters’ response to the fire.
   “There was an extreme fire and heat hazard that would have been fatal to enter,” the report stated, describing what firefighters faced when they first arrived at the scene. The bodies of the victims were discovered by firefighters and a State Fire Marshal officer in the ashes only after the fire was safely extinguished.
   According to the report, the fire department received the call at 2:49 a.m. Sunday of a residential fire at 70 North Gulf Blvd. on Knight Island with the first unit from the county’s fire station on the island arriving at 2:55 a.m.. Initially, authorities reported the fire at a different address.
   “We had multiple emergency calls coming in and multiple addresses,” Fire/EMS spokeswoman Dee Hawkins-Garland said Thursday. “We verified the exact address.”
   The Charlotte County Tax Collector’s Office website identifies the owners of the residence as Kevin Lee and Cheryl Ann Stevens.
   While authorities have not yet confirmed the identity of the victims, islanders have been expressing their grief and sympathy since Sunday for the Stevens family of four. Kevin Stevens and his daughter were not home at the time of the fire.
   Islander Mary Moore told the Sun Wednesday, “Everybody is still in shock at this tragedy. People are putting flowers and crosses near the home.”
   The fire department report described the residence as three stories — a two-story, wooden structure on pilings. The report also said the residence had no “automatic fire extinguishment system,” and firefighters could not determine whether the home had smoke detectors.
   According to the report, the first firefighters on the scene couldn’t station their vehicle in front of the home due to the heat from the blaze. The “severity of the heat and fire” made accessibility to the front of the home impossible. Firefighters fought the blaze from the side of the home.
   Embers had ignited vegetation between the residence and threatened a neighboring home. Firefighters extinguished the threat to the neighboring property.
   And, once the neighboring residence was protected, firefighters turned their full attention to the residence engulfed in flames. The report stated, “Shortly after the attack started on the main structure, building sections started to collapse.”
   The call also went out for assistance for firefighters on the mainland. Charlotte sent additional units and an ambulance from the mainland. The Englewood Area Fire Control District also assisted. The units from the mainland had to be transported onto the bridgeless barrier island by the Palm Island Transit ferries.
   By the time the Englewood firefighters and subsequent units arrived from the mainland, the residence had collapsed and was a “free burning fire,” the report stated. The Englewood department was released from the scene at 5:20 a.m. and the last unit was cleared from the scene at 3:44 p.m.
   The report estimated the property damage at $940,000.
   Charlotte County Fire/ EMS has only been manning the island fire station with two, full-time professional firefighters since January.
   The Englewood Area Fire Control District had manned the station from 2011 to 2014 after the island’s volunteer department folded. The fire district served the islands from the mainland during the ferry’s operating hours and with volunteer firefighters on the island during the off hours.
   The islanders decided to be served by county firefighters when the Englewood fire district wanted to station the island with full-time firefighters 24/7. The county’s assessment was less than what the fire district intended to assess islanders for the same service.
   Email: reilly@sun-herald.com 

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