Toddler dies, 2 'extremely critical' in Fla. mobile home fire

By Anthony Colarossi
The Orlando Sentinel

PINE LAKES, Fla. — An aging mobile home exploded into a ball of flames Wednesday afternoon, killing one of two toddlers and severely injuring his twin brother and mother.

Another woman, whose breathing was aided by an oxygen tank, also was seriously injured. Shortly before 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, neighbors along Pine Tree Lane in rural Lake County heard a "boom," and the trailer burst into flames. Within minutes, firefighters knocked a hole in the rear wall to reach the people inside, including the toddlers.

One of the children — an 18-month old boy — died there. His twin brother was rolled down Pine Tree Lane on a stretcher, paramedics pumping at his chest, before being airlifted to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando.

The boys' mother, Brandi Kerr, 24, also was airlifted to the hospital along with Sandra Goad, 57. Both women were guests at the home.

"Why couldn't I have been home?" asked Keith Grose, 39, who rented the single-wide mobile home. He said the deceased twin would have been 2 on Christmas Day.

"I would have run right for that baby," said Grose, as friends and neighbors consoled him while he paced in front of the charred shell that used to be his home.

A third adult, Lolletta Pierce, 32, was inside the home as the fire raged. She had burns and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Assistant Fire Chief Jack Fillman said the surviving child and mother were "in extremely critical condition" when they were airlifted out.

Officials with the Florida Division of State Fire Marshal said the blaze was still under investigation late Wednesday. But many observing the scene suspected an oxygen tank belonging to Goad — and inside the home — was to blame for the fire.

The fire was reported at 3:26 p.m. Three firefighters responded within four minutes, and soon 25 firefighters and their trucks crowded the modest neighborhood of small homes and mobile homes.

Grose's brother James Miller, who lived in the mobile home but also was at work at the time, said, "There was a lady that was staying with us that was on oxygen. It was an oxygen tank, and it got on fire."

Grose identified the woman with the oxygen tank as Goad, who was supposed to be staying at the home for a short period before moving in with other folks up north. Grose said that Goad smoked on occasion.

Her oxygen tank was placed near the front of the residence, he said.

The twins and their mother, Kerr, a friend, also were staying there, Grose said.

"The kids and Brandi were in my bedroom," he said, adding that the children were likely napping at the time the fire erupted.

Leonard Atkinson, who lives across the road, said he was inside his house when the home exploded.

"I heard a boom," he said. "I jumped up and ran out here, and it [the mobile home] was going [in flames]."

The residence has "several add-ons and was about 75 percent involved in fire when we arrived," Fillman said. "We were told three people were inside, so we cut a hole in the back of the home and were able to extract the three victims."

He added: "Smoke inhalation is primarily what people succumb to in a house fire."

Two stretchers were seen being rolled away from the trailer with two people who had soot covering their bodies. One was a young child, and emergency medical technicians were pumping the child's chest.

Behind them, firefighters were still pouring water on the residence, which was ruined and smoldering.

The mobile home, built in 1971, sits in the Pine Lakes area tucked between Eustis and DeLand. It is crisscrossed by dirt roads and dotted with other manufactured homes, some more than 50 years old, according to records maintained by the Lake County Property Appraiser's Office.

"We're just going to try to find another place to live," said James Miller, 44, who added there was no insurance for their belongings. "We've got friends all over here. We'll find someplace to stay."

Copyright 2009 Sentinel Communications Co.

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