California RV Park Fire Leaves Two Dead, One Badly Injured
An investigation continues into the cause of a blaze that engulfed a motorhome in a northern California RV park early Sunday (Nov. 20), leaving two dead and a young boy being treated for severe burns.
Cal Fire Cpt. Ivy Williams said someone reported the fire shortly before 1 a.m., and trucks responded to find a fully involved motor home fire in the Sounds of the Sea RV Park on the 3000 block of Patrick's Point Drive in Trinidad, the Eureka Times-Standard reported.
Humboldt County Deputy Coroner Roy Horton said a family from Clearlake — a 43-year-old woman, her two children and her fiance — had just recently purchased the 1980s-model motorhome and chose Patrick's Point for its first outing.
”What started out as a happy event just turned into a tragedy,” he said.
Horton said the woman and her fiance, James Gerace, 55, were sleeping in the back bedroom area of the motorhome, which was separated from the rest of the vehicle with a thin partition. Shortly before 1 a.m., Horton said, the woman awoke to hear Gerace screaming and yelling. The pair immediately went to get the kids — 14-year-old Daniel Critser and a 4-year-old boy who was sleeping in a pull-down bunk in the motorhome's cab.
Horton said the woman was able to battle through the flames and get her 4-year-old son, but the motorhome's side door wouldn't open, its latches stuck in the aluminum framing that Horton surmised probably expanded or shifted due to the heat from the fire.
Horton said the woman ran to the back of the vehicle, her child in her arms, and escaped through a rear side window by first dropping her son out before climbing out herself.
Gerace and Daniel weren't able to make it out.
Horton said that when he arrived at the motorhome, which was in the park's space No. 13, he found Gerace's remains slumped against the rear side window with Daniel's body in his lap.
”He was trying to pull him out,” Horton said. “It's just a shame that he was so close to getting out, yet so far.”
Horton said that in his final panicked moments, Gerace tried to shoot out the large rear window of the vehicle, but wasn't able to free himself. Bullets from Gerace's gun, Horton said, hit a neighboring motorhome, but luckily, no one was hurt.
Horton said that based on interviews with witnesses, it's clear the fire spread very quickly. He noted that motorhomes are generally filled with combustible materials, including propane tanks used to operate stoves and heaters.
”It went up really quickly,” he said. “We're talking just a matter of a few minutes.”
The mother and the 4-year-old were transported to Mad River Community Hospital for treatment and were later flown to Shriner's Hospital in Oakland, where the child was to receive further treatment, including skin grafts. Horton said the boy has second- and third-degree burns covering about 40% of his lower body.
Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Lt. Steve Knight said the arson task force determined the cause of the fire was accidental, but Cal Fire Cpt. Layne Crist said Monday that crews are still trying to determine exactly what sent the motor home up in flames.
”The cause is still under investigation,” Crist said. “As of right now, the fire appears to be accidental.”
Horton said the mother told him the heater was running when the fire broke out and that Daniel's laptop computer was plugged into a charging dock. Horton said the mother told him the family had the motorhome fully inspected by a mechanic before making the trip.
While remnants of a smoke alarm were found in the motorhome, Horton said the mother told him it never went off. Crist said investigators are working to determine if the smoke detector was functioning.
Williams said crews from Cal Fire, the Westhaven Fire Department and Arcata Ambulance responded to the call, and Horton said the scene had an impact on all who were there.
”This is the kind of thing that really takes its toll on the responders,” he said.
Crist urged people to check the smoke detectors in their homes.
”Everyone needs to check those and make sure they're working,” he said.