With a somber look on his face, Curtis McDonald walked slowly and stared at a shattered window in its burned frame Thursday, the morning after an intense house fire took the life of his 21-month-old son.
With tears in his eyes, he was too distraught to say much about the blaze that enveloped his Oildale home in the 300 block of Washington Avenue, sent him and other family members to the hospital and left a neighborhood in mourning.
About 12 hours earlier, neighbors formed a human chain to get McDonald’s three boys, ages 4, 5 and 6 years, out of the burning house. But the flames and black smoke engulfed the home and they were unable to save the life of the youngest boy, Aiden McDonald.
He is the only person to die in a residential fire in Kern County this year. Since 2009, there have been 21 residential fire deaths in Kern, including Aiden’s, according to the coroner’s office of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department.
The Kern County Fire Department went to the 1,800-square-foot, two-story home and found heavy smoke and fire coming out of two sides of home. Flames spewed from the front door.
Angela Boyle, 33, said Thursday morning that her kids screamed Wednesday evening that the house across the street was on fire.
“They were in the pool and all of a sudden they started screaming that there was smoke and that there was a house on fire and when we stepped out we just saw so much black smoke coming from inside the house,” Boyle said as she pointed to where the front door of the home used to be.
Boyle said her ex-husband, Paul Valencia, 33, jumped the chain-link fence outside the home and tried to kick down the door. After a few kicks, Valencia was able to take it down. He ran inside, but the smoke was too thick and he had to leave, Boyle said.
“As soon as he opened the door, flames just came pouring out of the house,” Boyle said.
Tanya Dotson, 33, a cousin of the children, ran out of her home across the street with her brother. Both tried to find and call out the names of the kids inside the house.
When she stepped outside, all she saw was the black smoke billowing out.
“I had my brother handing me each child and pets and the mother of the children was helping out as well but we just couldn’t get to Aiden,” Dotson said, choking back tears.
Because of the heavy smoke, Dotson said neighbors wrapped damp cloths around their faces to try and crawl around the home to find Aiden.
911 calls pour in
The KCFD dispatch center received eight emergency calls about the fire.
In one of the calls, a woman says neighbors are trying to get an 18-month-old baby out of the house and that they need help immediately. The dispatcher confirms to her that the fire department is on its way as coming as fast as it can.
There is a back-and-forth conversation concerning the safety of the neighbors attempting to go into the home to find Aiden. The dispatcher asks the woman to tell them to stay away from the home to prevent any injuries.
Screams and pleas are heard in the background over and over again for someone to help. At one point the woman says, “Oh my God, the baby is inside the house and the whole house is going up in flames.”
Sirens are heard in the background during the last call received by dispatchers.
Cary Wright, an engineer with the KCFD, said Thursday morning that the fire flashed and the smoke build-up was so great that it could have caused an explosion, but did not.
Aiden’s body was found in a back room of the first floor, Wright said. He died there at 6:20 p.m.
The cause of the fire, which took about 30 minutes to control, remains under investigation, but is considered an accident, Wright said.
Firefighters estimate the fire destroyed $140,000 worth of property, and $210,000 worth of property was saved.
The firefighters who arrived didn’t hear smoke detectors going off, Wright said. Whether there were any, and if they were functioning, is being investigated.
Family members of Aiden’s hosted a car wash to raise funds for funeral expenses for him and another relative Thursday afternoon at the Sonic parking lot on Olive Drive.
“This carwash was originally for my grandmother who died a couple days ago but yesterday when we got home from the carwash we got home to the house on fire, so now we have to figure out how we are going to pay for two funeral services,” Dotson said.
The family members who were taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation were released Thursday morning.
The family has had to take out loans to pay for the grandmother’s funeral and their debt is rising, Dotson said. She asked the community to help with anything, including clothes for the children and the parents who lost everything in the fire.