By Roger McKinney
WHEATON, Mo. —
The Wheaton community kicked into high gear to help the 16 survivors who were displaced Thursday morning by a fire that killed five at the Blue Ridge Apartments on South Hill Street.
Barry County Coroner Jim Fohn on Friday identified the five victims as Jonathan “Jay” Gimmecke, 32; Molly Doherty, 54; Corey Hasche, 23; Marry Henning, 43; and Henning’s 8-year-old son, Brandon Thurston.
Owners of the Blue Ridge Apartments didn’t immediately return a message left at a phone number on a sign at the apartment building on Friday.
KaDue Yang, a 23-year-old nursing student at Crowder College, said she heard a smoke alarm in a neighboring apartment about 3 a.m. Thursday. She had moved into the building a month ago. She said her immediate thought was someone had started early with cooking for Thanksgiving and burned something.
“I waited for awhile and I heard someone talking,” Yang said. She said the woman in the apartment across the hall from her began yelling for her mother and other family members. She said she got her 2-year-old son out of bed and looked through the peep hole in her door.
“The second I opened the door, there are flames shooting out from the apartment next door,” Yang said. She said the heat was intense as they made their way down the stairs and out the door.
“I watched the fire as it took over the building,” she said.
Yang and her son on Friday were at the Wheaton Community Center, where clothes, food and other supplies were being collected in a spontaneous outpouring of volunteerism.
“I’ve lost everything,” Yang said. She said her textbooks were destroyed — here at the end of the semester. She said she and her son do have a place to stay. She said she didn’t have renter’s insurance.
“They’ve been very helpful,” Yang said of the volunteers at the community center. “Everybody’s been very nice.”
Yang said the apartments weren’t furnished with sprinklers, though she said she wasn’t sure they would have helped.
The Red Cross has found hotel rooms for those who don’t have family members with whom to stay nearby.
Rex and Terry Davis shared a downstairs apartment with their son, his wife and their baby.
“We heard a bunch of noise,” Rex Davis said. He said everyone in his family was able to get out unharmed.
“The building went up fast,” he said. “It was so fast.”
He said he felt very fortunate.
He was at the community center on Friday with his wife. They all are staying with another son and his family from Cassville. They were helping to organize the donated items for others.
“The Red Cross has been wonderful to us,” Davis said. “They’ve been very good.”
Sallie Robbins, of Shell Knob, returned to her hometown on Friday to help. She arrived at 8:30 a.m.
“It’s my hometown,” Robbins said of her motivation. “I didn’t feel like I had money to donate, but I could give my time.”
Amanda Spears was at the community center with her daughters, Cailyn and Bailey.
“We just wanted to help in any way we can,” Amanda Spears said.
Wheaton firefighter Stuart Lombard was at the scene of the apartment fire on Friday, where some flames and smoke were occasionally whipped up by the wind. He said all of the other building occupants were able to escape the fire without injury. He said residents of a second apartment building, which firefighters were able to protect, had moved back into the building.
“Luckily, the wind was blowing out of the south” away from the second building, Lombard said.
He said the Wheaton Fire Department had assistance from five neighboring fire departments.
“We’re very thankful we’ve got the good neighbors we do in the surrounding communities,” Lombard said. “We definitely couldn’t have done it without them.”
He said an investigator with the Missouri Division of Fire Safety is probing the fire. No one with the office could be reached on Friday.
Staff writer Susan Redden contributed to this report.
Sallie Robbins, a volunteer at the Wheaton Community Center, said several area churches have donated items for those displaced by the fire.