North Tulsa house fire leaves three people dead

Wednesday, January 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

It could have happened to just about anyone. Cold temperatures mean many of us are using space heaters to keep warm. As the holiday season closes, we're getting rid of our Christmas trees. Three people are dead after a space heater and a dry Christmas tree made for a deadly combination.

Tulsa Fire officials recognize others may be in danger from the same type of tragedy. So they want you to know there are ways you can protect yourself.

Back in December, the Claremore Fire Department invited the News on Six to show the public the dangers of dry, brittle Christmas trees. Once ignited, they burn as though they're doused in gasoline. Fire and smoke can engulf a room within seconds.

That's what Tulsa Fire investigators say happened at a north Tulsa home Tuesday afternoon. The family was pulling the Christmas tree out of the house when it brushed against an open-flame space heater. A Tulsa Fire Department official, "It burns very fast, and it was a very difficult fire for the firefighters to fight." Friends and relatives couldn't believe how quickly three lives could be lost. 33 year-old Pamela Starks, her 9 year-old son Dustin and Rodney - another 9-year-old relative, never had a chance. Family friend, Kenya Daniels, "We lost a lot of family members and dreams and everything that we was working so hard to progress and achieve. For this to happen, this can't happen, this can't be true."

Even more devastating than the fire itself, the thought that it could have been prevented. Tulsa Fire Marshal Paul Gallaher, “These three items, the tree itself, the open flame and the bars, represented a recipe for the tragedy that we saw unfold."

The Starks died trying to escape from a room with no exterior door, and locked bars on the windows. Fire officials recommend breakaway windows that pop open from the inside, something building codes now require. Gallaher, "If there's no outside door in a room then we generally put a breakaway type window, or a breakout as we call them." In an instant, you can lose everything, so firefighters say it's best to be prepared. Tulsa firefighters have already responded to a number of fires involving space heaters; and they say dry Christmas trees are always trouble this time of year.

Tulsa Fire Department Capt Hubert Rouse says only to use space heaters to warm limited spaces - not an entire room. Be sure your heater has a "UL approved" tag. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for use. Check electrical cords to be sure there are no breaks. And keep your space heater at least 2 feet from anything that could catch fire.

They also say it's important to have an escape plan in case fire breaks out in your home.