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4 kids died in Benton County homes with no smoke alarms. The sheriff wants it to stop

A Prosser brother and sister were asleep in their beds one morning when their mobile home caught fire.

The kids had no warning. And the flames, sparked by an overloaded outlet, quickly consumed the home.

Jesus Gonzalez Bautista, 10, and Heidy Gonzalez Bautista, 7, both died as a result of the July 25 fire.

The siblings were home alone. Their parents had left earlier in the day for work at nearby farms, and neighbors tried to check inside but found the doors locked.

On Wednesday, nearly a week later, Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher said the situation may have been different had smoke detectors been installed.

“Clearly they would save lives,” he said. “(Jesus and Heidy) would have been able to escape before the smoke over took them.”

It’s a problem in mobile home across the county, and Hatcher wants to help fix it. Many of the structures date back to the ‘60s and ‘70s and never had smoke detectors installed.

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Jesus Gonzalez Bautista, 10, and Heidy Gonzalez Bautista, 7, died as a result of the July 25 fire at their home in Prosser. The mobile home had no smoke detectors. GoFundMe screenshot

Not the first tragedy

Their deaths were the most recent, but not the only tragedies that may have been prevented by a smoke alarm.

Two years ago, a surge in an electrical system in a home near a Benton City vineyard started a blaze that destroyed a home with two children asleep inside.

The kids, also ages 10 and 7, died as a result of their injuries.

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A former Benton City couple is suing the vineyard they say gave them an unsafe home without smoke alarms. Two of their children were severely burned and later died. Courtesy the Hernandez family

A few months later, a candle in a bathroom sparked a fire in a Bowles Road home that left a 7-year-old boy badly burned and also hospitalized his mother and sister.

In response, the sheriff’s office wants to put together an education campaign for people living in mobile homes across the county.

It’s still in the planning stages, but Hatcher hopes to share information and give smoke alarms to people needing them. Currently, they are searching for a source for the alarms.

Anyone who would like to help can contact the sheriff’s office at 509-735-6555.

Sound the alarm

The American Red Cross offers some help getting smoke alarms in Benton and Franklin counties.

The organization, which is called on to help people displaced by fires, started a nationwide campaign In 2014 aimed at decreasing the number of people hurt and killed in house fires.

Since the campaign started, they’ve installed more than 1.8 million smoke alarms, and estimate that those have saved more than 600 people nationwide.

“The mobile home population is very vulnerable,” said Peggy Hoggarth, the executive director of the Red Cross serving Central and Southeastern Washington.

smoke alarm

While newer manufactured homes have more safety features, older ones often burn more quickly then their stick-built counterparts, she said.

The Red Cross works with fire departments across the region to get smoke alarms installed in homes and offer free smoke alarms for people who can’t afford one.

Sign up for a free smoke detector at getasmokealarm.org or call the Red Cross of Central and Southeastern Washington at 509-783-6195 for more information.

Community coming together

Since last week’s deadly blaze, the Benton County Sheriff’s Foundation and others have come together to support the Gonzalez family.

As of Monday, they had collected nearly $11,000.

A GoFundMe campaign also has raised nearly $7,000.

And Hoggarth said the Red Cross has had many calls from people looking to lend their support to the Gonzalezes.

West Benton Fire Rescue is also contributing to the efforts. The department serves Prosser and much of the surrounding area. West Benton firefighters pulled Jesus and Heidy from the burning home and tried to revive them.

“Unfortunately, even with their quick action and heroic efforts, we just could not overcome the injuries that these two children sustained while inside the residence,” said Fire Chief Seth Johnson. “For my staff, it was a tough incident and we have seen a huge outpouring of support from both inside and outside of the firefighting community.”

“This family is mourning the tragic loss of a son and daughter,” he added, “and they will need the support of the community as they begin to process their profound loss.”

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.
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