OKLAHOMA CITY — A man remains in critical condition after he escaped a NW Oklahoma City house fire that killed his girlfriend and her four children Wednesday morning.
39 year old Brian Poletto is recovering from second and third-degree burns to over 33% of his body.
Officials say neither he, nor the five victims who died, had any warning to get out of the home because they didn’t have a working smoke alarm.
The family used space heaters to keep warm, one of which is believed to have caught something on fire.
The victims were Jeanine Bonnet, 28, Natalie Leon, 8, Samantha Leon, 7, Matthew Zackary Leon, 5, and Kara Leon, 3,
Officials say smoke alarms can cut the chance of death in a fire by as much as 50 percent.
Thursday afternoon, complete strangers stopped by saying they wished the family had been given a few extra seconds to get out in time.
Amanda Baker felt compelled to bring her kids’ stuffed animals to the burned-out home in the 2800 block of Dorchester Drive.
She made a small memorial to the four children who died the morning after Christmas.
“To let people know we’re thinking about them,” Baker said while wiping tears from her face, “and I want my kids to know it means something, you know. It could have easily been one of us. I have three children, you know. It means a lot.”
Baker heard there were no smoke alarms in the home.
“And that’s horrible,” she said. “This is a big house. I don’t know where they were at in it, but obviously they couldn’t get out. They didn’t have warning.”
“It was horrible just sitting here watching it,” said neighbor Marion Adams.
A day before watching the flames, Adams watched the family playing outside on Christmas day.
She was hoping they had all survived, until hearing the news.
“And then I was like, please don’t let it be them. Don’t let it be them, and when they said that, oh goodness.”
The power of smoke alarms is showcased on the Oklahoma City Fire Prevention Office’s “wall of fame.”
“Fame because these alarms actually alerted the residents to the presence of smoke,” said Maj. Kevin Berry, “and they got out alive.”
Some of the smoke alarms on the wall melted in homes, but not before saving six lives in 2000, five lives in 2005; another saved the lives of 10 people, back in 1999.
“It cannot be overstated,” Berry said. “It cannot be overemphasized. A working smoke alarm in your home is a necessity.”
“I just went home and hugged the kids yesterday when I heard (the news),” Baker said standing in front of the victims’ home. “It’s just horrible.”
Berry said if you can’t afford a smoke alarm, just call any fire station.
They’ll give you a free one and even install it for you, if you can’t do it yourself.
Berry said just one inhalation of smoke and super heated air can cause disorientation.
He said it’s usually the smoke that gets people before the fire.