Boy accidentally started fire

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Monday, May 12, 2008
— Not much is left of a home at 327 N. Palm St. that was scorched by a deadly fire Saturday morning.

But before going into the blackened building to collect belongings, family members and friends this morning gathered in front of a makeshift shrine of flowers, a cross and dime store angels devoted to 7-year-old Derek R. J. Mattingly, who died in the two-apartment home.

On a Sunday school drawing of Jesus, a child’s hand had written: “Dear Derek, I am varey sorry you died. Deborah.”

Derek’s 2-year-old brother, Joey Ashmore, was flown to a Milwaukee hospital for treatment. His condition was not available this morning.

Firefighters pulled both boys out a bedroom window Saturday morning. Four other occupants of the home were not injured. The mother was at work.

Fire and police investigators reported Monday afternoon that 4-year-old Owen A.P. Ashmore accidentally started the fire. He reportedly was playing with matches or a lighter when the fire started, investigators said.

Derek and Joey were in a first-floor bedroom when the fire broke out.

Owen woke Scott A. Ashmore, the boys’ 23-year-old father who was in another first-floor bedroom, Jensen said.

Ashmore found the couch in the living room on fire and tried to rouse Derek and Joey. He then decided to go upstairs to warn the other residents, fire Capt. Mike Gang said.

The fire was so hot when Ashmore returned that he could not get in to help his sons, although he tried, Gang said.

Gang noted that Ashmore has a physical handicap that could have hindered him.

The boys’ grandmother Laurie R. Ginter, 44, and Dale S. Kuntz, 51, of W688 County Line Road, Fort Atkinson, were in the upstairs apartment.

Their mother, Kristarra M. Mattingly, 22, was at work.

Larry Hainstock, the fire department's lead inspector, was at the fire scene this morning. He said he received a verbal preliminary report from police Sunday.

“Even after that, I want to see the report in writing,’’ he said.

Police and fire officials planned to meet again this morning to share information.

The fire department is citing the building’s owner, Noe Ramos of Franklin Park, Ill., “for not providing proper smoke detection in the apartment as required by Wisconsin State Statute,” Hainstock said.

The Janesville Fire Department does not inspect duplexes because they are classified as two-family homes and fall under a different building code than commercial property—three units and up—that are inspected twice a year, Hainstock said.

If and when citations are issued depends on the circumstances, Hainstock said.

Kristarra told investigators she removed a smoke alarm the week before the fire, but she didn’t say why, Gang said Saturday.

“If the tenant removed a battery from the smoke detector, the tenant is liable,” Hainstock said this morning. “If the owner didn’t provide smoke detectors, then the landlord is responsible.”

At a minimum, “there should be one on every level, and they need one in the basement,’’ Hainstock said of a home.

“There was only one so far that we found,” Hainstock said.

Police, fire and 911 staff who dealt with the trauma were invited to a debriefing at 1:30 p.m. today led by the Rev. Bill Wagner of Beloit, who is in charge of critical incident stress debriefing in southeastern Wisconsin.

The debriefing “gets your emotions out so you’re not harboring sad feelings,” Hainstock said.

“So many of the guys and females here have young children that same age, and that was the problem that day. It strikes you as so tragic and that that could be your child,’’ Hainstock said.

After more than two decades of fighting fires, Hainstock explained why dealing with a fatal fire never gets easier.

“Because it is so senseless. This whole scene could have been avoided with proper smoke detection,’’ he said.

But it wasn’t.

“The general public doesn’t believe they’ll ever have a fire—that fires happen to other people.

Hainstock can’t stress enough that that’s simply not true.

“We have to prepare our households for any disasters just like we prepare for storms. That’s why we have smoke detectors, escape routes, fire drills at home and why we visit schools—to teach kids what to do in case there is a fire.’’

Reporters Catherine W. Idzerda and Gina Duwe contributed to this story.
Counselors ready to help

At Madison Elementary School, where 7-year-old fire victim Derek R.J. Mattingly was a student, five psychologists, social workers and counselors from throughout the school district were ready to help, district spokeswoman Sheryl Miller said.

A district team met Sunday night with crisis workers from the school, and a staff meeting this morning updated everyone, she said. Informing students of the fire was handled individually by teachers in their classrooms, she said.

Administrators and teachers are carrying out the school day as normal, she said.

“We try to keep things as normal as we can for students. That helps to have that support here,” she said.

An area at the school also was designated for parents to talk to crisis workers.

A spokesperson for the Southcentral Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross said the relief organization planned to meet with the family today to assess their needs.

Fatal fires in Janesville since 1848

-- July 8, 2006: Mobile home, 77 Falling Creek Circle. Firefighters found Vicki McCaslin, 54, dead and a trailer on fire when they responded to a Lifeline call. Emergency crews found McCaslin blocking the door to the trailer at that address after the Lifeline medical alert system called an ambulance.

Authorities listed the fire’s cause as careless use of smoking materials. McCaslin had medical problems, was on an oxygen tank and appeared to have smoked while using the tank, authorities said at the time.

-- Nov. 21, 2004: Country Side Motel, 4700 W. Highway 14. Douglas W. Abram, 58, was found dead in his two-room apartment at the motel.

Careless smoking apparently ignited the fire in the bedroom, officials said.

-- 1998: Residence, 2000 Parkside Drive.

-- March 4, 1995: 1014 N. Pine. World War I veteran Thomas Kerr, 99, died of a heart attack after a fire started in his home. Officials think the fire started when Kerr’s flannel shirt ignited as he reached across a hot electric stove, and his consequent anxiety triggered the heart attack, which an autopsy revealed.

-- 1993: Man rescued from a house fire but later died.

-- Oct. 23, 1988: Tierney Residence, 2315 Conway.

-- Sept. 21, 1988: Mary Lou Marhee, 48, of 2123 Pioneer was found dead after she tried to escape her burning house.

-- May 1, 1987: William Ryan Residence, 3206 Laurel Ave.

-- March 27, 1983: Jeffris Theatre, 319 W. Milwaukee St.

-- Aug. 11, 1979: Apartments on Court and Main street, three people died.

-- April 29, 1978: 14-16 N. Main St., six people died

-- Jan. 9, 1970: Residence, Black Bridge Road.

-- Dec. 9, 1968: Car fire, Creston Park.

-- Feb. 18, 1962: Residence, 625 S. Franklin St.

-- Nov. 11, 1959: Schlueter Company, Firefighter William J. Finnane became second in Janesville to die in line of duty.

-- February 1959: Residence, 1314 Beloit Ave.

-- Feb. 5, 1959: Residence, 307 N. Terrace St.

-- April 12, 1953: H.T. Whitmyer Home

-- March 2, 1925: Firefighter Edward Lichtfus dies in line of duty

-- April 12, 1874: School for the Blind

-- Jan. 12 1867: Hyatt House Hotel, Milwaukee and Franklin streets

Last updated: 9:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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