Another mobile home without smoke alarms burns. Sheriff plans door-to-door visits

County officials plan to knock on doors this weekend looking to save a life.

It’s an effort to get smoke alarms inside mobile homes after four children died in two fires and others were hurt in homes without working smoke detectors.

Just this week, a mobile home on Proton Lane in Richland are heavily damaged by fire.

Several people inside managed to get out safely but only because they noticed the smoke and flames about 5 p.m. Wednesday. There was no warning from a smoke alarm, said fire Battalion Chief Brenda Rodgers.

Firefighters are still trying to determine what started that fire, but it’s another instance of a problem — a persistent lack of smoke alarms in many mobile and manufactured homes in the county.

Older mobile homes

The deaths of two Prosser children in July brought the problem in to an even sharper focus, said Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher.

Jesus Gonzalez Bautista, 10, and Heidy Gonzalez Bautista, 7, were asleep when an overloaded outlet on the outside of the home caught fire.

The children had no warning before smoke overcame them. Hatcher said there were no smoke detectors in the home.

Hatcher and fire officials say the problem is that many of the mobile and manufactured homes date to the ‘60s and ‘70s and never had smoke detectors installed.

“We’ve identified all of the (mobile home) parks in the county, and we’re going to start this weekend going door to door,” he told the Herald.

They’ll bring fliers in English and Spanish, explaining the importance of smoke detectors, and information about who they can contact if they need one.

Hatcher is working with fire departments across the county along with the American Red Cross. Many of these groups already have programs in place to help get detectors into homes.

Richland Fire Department, West Benton Fire Rescue and Benton County fire districts 1 and 4 all have programs that can help get smoke alarms installed.

Aquilini House
The fire in this Benton City manufacture home claimed the life of two children who were inside. Now the parents are suing their former employer. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

West Benton Fire Rescue’s Chief Seth Johnson said it’s not uncommon for firefighters to go out on a medical emergency call and also check on the smoke alarms, and install new ones if needed.

They recommend one in each bedroom and at least one in the hallway of every level of the home, Johnson said.

If you have propane or natural gas, he recommended plugging in carbon monoxide detectors, as well.

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

They work with fire departments, including Kennewick, to get smoke alarms in homes and offer free ones for people who can’t afford them.

Sign up at getasmokealarm.org or call the Red Cross of Central and Sourtheastern Washington at 509-783-6195.

Other injuries, deaths

This was not the first time in Benton County that the lack of smoke detectors led to a death.

A surge in an electrical system in a home near a Benton City vineyard in July 2017 started a blaze that destroyed a home with two children asleep inside.

The kids, also ages 10 and 7, later died.

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.

But, just last Sunday in Finley, a family safely escaped their burning manufactured home when smoke alarms alerted them to a 4 a.m. fire spreading from the garage.

“I think most residents consider it a nuisance,” said Benton County Fire District 1 Chief Lonnie Click. “They miss the importance of having a functioning smoke detector.”

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.