A ‘very tragic’ accident: Space heater source for fatal house fire

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

Feb. 8 2007 - The combination of two young boys who woke up early on a chilly Sunday morning and played around a space heater led to the deadly house fire that claimed the life of 3-year-old Caden West, investigators have concluded.

"The ruling is that this was an accidental fire — a very tragic accidental fire," Assistant Fire Marshal Eric Hill said this morning.

Hill has interviewed Beth and Mike West, the parents of Caden West, and other witnesses about the fire in the 200 block of Morris Drive Sunday morning.

"We know that the fire started in the living room area around a space heater," Hill said. "We believe the boys may have been playing on or near the space heater."

Exactly what items that caught on fire is not going to be determined, Hill said, but added that it appears that Caden and his twin brother, Connor, had gotten up before their parents early that morning.

When Beth West woke up, she found Connor in the living room where "there was a lot of fire."

"Even the carpet was burning — that's where she injured her feet," Hill said, referring to the second-degree burns Beth West suffered. "At that point, the mother and father didn't know where Caden was."

Beth yelled to wake her husband and went to get the other child in the house, Mikayla, 2, as the fire and smoke spread quickly. Mike broke out a window in the children's bedroom, sustaining multiple cuts and embedding shards of glass in his skin, to get them to safety.

Beth tried to go deeper into the house for Caden but was driven back by the impenetrable heat and smoke. Mike ran around the outside of the house to try and go in through another door, living every parent's worst nightmare.

"He heard Caden yelling for help," Hill said.

He kicked in a door to the kitchen attached to the garage, but there was no way to go inside — the fire had built up too much heat, and the smoke and dense gases would have been lethal.

Neighbors helped the family move away from the burning structure, wrapping them in blankets to protect them from the freezing temperatures as firefighters rushed to the scene.

Sulphur Springs Fire Chief Gerry Gleaver said Monday the fire crews concentrated their effors on the area where they believed Caden was, but were not able to save the boy.

Hill said there are hundreds and hundreds of homes in Sulphur Springs that have to rely on space heaters for warmth, and sometimes tragedies simply cannot be avoided.

"No matter how careful you're going to be, acccidents are going to happen," he said. 

The assistant fire marshal also said the rental house had no smoke detectors.

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