Four children died when their mobile home caught fire early Thursday morning in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Rosalynn Goff, 2; Jefferson Goff, 3; Johnnie Mann-Goff, 5; and Matthew Damron, 10 were killed by smoke inhalation and thermal burns.
Four adults were able to escape the fire, Jessica Mann, mother of four children; Audrey Kistler; her boyfriend Samuel Barnett and Travis Garrison.
According to reports, Garrison woke up in the fire and tried to exit through the front door, but the deadlock didn’t work. Garrison screamed fire as he tried to help the family escape. As he ran out the back door, Barnett and Kistler escaped through the window and Mann in a separate room pushed an air conditioning unit to escape.
However, trapped in a separate room were the four children. Garrison attempted to save them. “I was running to the front door trying to open it and it wouldn’t open,” Garrison told WTHR. “I heard the cries of the children. Scream and there was nothing I could do about it. We did our best to get the kids out. We did everything we could.
Neighbors joined the family in the rescue effort while calling emergency services. Shelby Wright, a neighbor across the street, tried to force open the window and direct the children towards her. She was unable to rescue them as flames and smoke engulfed the mobile home.
“I heard the children screaming and after a second I saw nothing else. The flames got bigger, and I finally had to step back because the flurry of smoke came and I couldn’t breathe. All I heard was, ‘Help, mum!’ and just the babies were crying, and the dog was crying. That’s all I heard,” Wright told WPTA21.
Another neighbour, Wesley Desjardins, attempted to remove the air conditioner when the flames swirled in his direction, injuring his hand and ankle.
All four adults were sent to an area hospital, and Mann was sent to the Indianapolis Burn Unit with internal and external burns. The cause of the fire has not been determined by firefighters.
It was the second fire in a week at the Dupont Estates mobile home park in the city’s far northeast. On April 16, the Fort Wayne Fire Department responded to another fire and was able to evacuate an adult and a child. There has been an outpouring of support from neighbors and locals for the family and their four children.
Reviews left on Google Maps give an idea of the state of conditions in Dupont Estates and are not uncommon in neighborhoods across the United States where working-class residents seek to get by on meager wages. “Not a good place to live unless you can’t afford much more,” wrote Amal Waggoner. “A little run down but easy to own a house there,” noted James Solliday.
Local media attempted to hold the adults in the house responsible for the children trapped inside. Garrison countered by telling Fox 55, “We were all trying to get back in there. We couldn’t get into the house. The fire was too high. The smoke was too thick. We couldn’t get into that house. He told local media he heard the propane tank make a hissing sound before the fire got worse.
The US Fire Administration reports that there have been 922 people killed in house fires across the United States so far this year. Local authorities are not required to report fire deaths. The US Fire Administration, which is part of FEMA, collects information based on media reports, which means the data is understated.
Last month, Dawn Michelle East Bottoms, 33, and her 4-year-old daughter died in a fire that engulfed their mobile home in Madison, North Carolina.
On April 2, 20-year-old twin brothers died in a house fire in the predominantly working-class town of Trenton, New Jersey. Five teenagers, ages 14 to 17, died on April 11 when their home was engulfed in flames in an early Monday morning fire in Genesee Township, Pennsylvania, on the north-central border with New York .
Housing fires are a problem faced by workers around the world.
More infamously, in London, the UK’s wealthiest city, the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people as flammable iron cladding panels caught fire engulfing the 24-storey building. The building was in the wealthiest boroughs of London, providing social housing for workers. For aesthetic purposes, the building was covered with a flammable coating despite warnings about the dangers.
The phenomenon of house fires cannot be understood outside the context of the decades-long assault on working-class living standards. Between 1979 and 2019, the bottom 90% of working people in the United States saw their incomes rise by less than $9,000, forcing families to band together and seek cheap and unsafe living conditions. Poorer families, squeezed by rising costs, face utility cuts that force them to rely on alternative sources of heating in cold weather, increasing the likelihood of fires.
The median salary in Fort Wayne is just above $51,000 according to US Census data, while more than 15% of the population lives below the meager official poverty line.
The role of unions in dismantling working class living standards was on display recently in Fort Wayne at auto parts maker Dana Inc. The company and union bureaucracy of the United Steelworkers (USW) and United Autoworkers (UAW) work to continue sweatshop conditions despite the rejection of a sell-out contract by a rank-and-file rebellion.
At GM Fort Wayne Assembly, as outbreaks of COVID-19 cases continued, the UAW peddled the lie that there was no workplace transmission to keep the plant running and the profits flow into company coffers. Assembly plant workers earn starting wages just over $16 an hour building trucks that sell for nearly $50,000.