Firefighters Describe 'Horrific' Fire that Killed a Mother and Child in London, Texas
LONDON, TX — The fire early Sunday morning in London that killed a mother and child was a harrowing fire to fight said members of the London Volunteer Fire Department.
The 9-1-1 call for the fire happened at 3 a.m., by 3:08 a.m. volunteer firefighters were on the scene.
London VFD Captain Reba Davis arrived first with her husband, Fire Chief Vernon Davis, in two vehicles, a fire truck and second vehicle. The small town of London, situated in the middle a nowhere between Menard, Mason and Junction, has a VFD so small that married couples comprise of most of the billets. “We don’t travel together,” Reba explained. And they don’t usually fight fires in the same group, in case there is a calamity that injures a group. This policy somewhat prevents having both heads of a household killed when fighting fires.
Reba said her husband stayed in front while she ran around the back of the blazing mobile home. The mobile home was situated on a small postage stamp lot in the middle of London, right across from the post office, she said. Her husband, Chief Davis, said the distance between the burning mobile home and the house next door was a 20-foot-wide driveway. “And there was a highly combustible wooden fence on the other side of the driveway,” the Chief said.
Above: A picture taken after the sun rose over the fire fought in the dark, early morning hours on Sunday, Nov. 226, 2017, in London, Texas. (Contributed/London VFD)
As about six other volunteer firefighters arrived, Chief Davis said his initial approach to the fire was defensive; the mobile home was fully engulfed when he arrived. “Defensive” is a firefighter term that means to protect other structures near the inferno. It included the homes next door. There was another problem Reba identified in the back yard: a large propane tank situated a few feet away from the trailer and flames. The blast radius of an exploding propane tank is quite large, and Reba continuously doused the tank with water, even as she could hear the gases in the tank expanding.
By 3:15 a.m. all of the responding VFD firefighters in London had arrived, along with many others in town to help. Five of the volunteers lived within 1/4 mile of the fire. London VFD has an operational agreement with larger fire departments in Mason and Junction to respond to structure fires to assist. “They usually bring a truck and a water tender each, but it takes them a while to get here,” said Reba. Junction is 20 miles away, and Mason is 25 miles. The assisting fire departments arrived in about 30 minutes of the call.
“It was the most horrific fire I have seen in my 8 years as a volunteer firefighter,” Reba said.
The 10-year-old daughter of the mother who perished in the fire had escaped through a hole the mother must have made by pushing out a window air conditioner unit. The 10-year-old was the only survivor of the family residing there and is in a San Antonio hospital where she is expected to stay for a while, recovering from severe smoke inhalation.
Also killed was the mother’s 14-year-old daughter. Reba said she thinks the mother and 14-year-old daughter were next to escape through the window AC hole, but they were overcome with smoke inhalation before they could get out. Reports are that the only viable escape from the mobile home was a window with the AC unit and another window that had been boarded up. Unofficial reports are that the fire spread from underneath the front deck near the only door.
Chief Davis said it took two hours to knock down the flames. The firefighters didn’t leave the scene until 12 hours later, at 3 p.m. Sunday. While the large propane tank was a worry outdoors, as the firefighters doused the flames, two very loud explosions went off inside the some. Then, Reba said, they heard ammunition go off. “Thankfully, the ammo was stored in a fireproof safe inside the trailer,” she said.
The State of Texas Fire Marshal’s office is conducting the official investigation. Chief Davis could not offer any conclusions on the cause of the fire.
However, the Chief did say the yard was cluttered with additional structures—combustibles—like seven abandoned camper trailers, six abandoned vehicles, and four other trailers. The Chief estimated the lot contained eight yards of trash. “It was very difficult to contain,” he said.
As for the victims killed in the fire, Reba said the town of London is horribly grief-stricken. “A horrific event for our small community,” she said. The mother, Jatisa, “was a very sweet person. And her little girls were friends of our foster children,” Reba said.
Friends and family have told us more about the mother, Jatisa Norton. At the time of her death, she was 32 (we originally reported 33), and worked at the Hill Country Care Center, nursing home. She was getting her degree online in criminal justice. She was married but had been separated from her husband, Clifford Norton, for years. Clifford’s sister, Elizabeth Norton, said he is grieving the loss of his family. He goes by the nickname Bubba. “Bubba loved his wife and daughter dearly. Jatisa and Jaycie will be sorely missed by him,” Elizabeth said.
The surviving daughter, Joely, 10, is hospitalized in San Antonio.
Above: Mother, Jatisa (center), daughter Jaycie (left), and daughter Joely (right). (Contributed/Margrette Williams)
Jatisa’s family is raising money to help with funeral expenses and to aid the 10-year-old daughter who survived. Junction National Bank, 2002 Main St, Junction, TX 76849, (325) 446-3391, has set up a fund to help.
Joely’s great-aunt also set up a GoFundMe page for donations here.
The London Fire Chief said there’s a lesson to be learned from this tragedy. Keep the area around and under your home clear of combustible items, he said. Keep your grass mowed short, and especially be careful about items that are within 20 feet of your house. One key safety tip is to avoid having items near the home that will allow a fire to spread up into the eaves of the structure.
The London VFD inaugurated a fire prevention program called Firewise a few years ago to educate residents on fire prevention. He hopes the tragedy will encourage everyone to work towards making his or her living spaces safer.