The Nation Weeps
Associated Press Writer
EVANSTON, Wyo. (AP) -- A day after two volunteer firefighters lost their lives in a fiery explosion, investigators resumed the search for clues into the cause of the town home blaze and ensuing blast.
The victims of Monday's fire were Jacob Cook, 23, who had been married only a few weeks, and Robert Henderson, 39, a married father of three. Both were Evanston residents.
The two died from injuries suffered in an explosion after they went into a burning town house to attempt a rescue of children reportedly trapped inside. As it turned out, all occupants had safely vacated the complex.
"It's a situation where we've lost members of our family,'' Eric Quinney, chief administrative officer for the Evanston Fire Department, said Tuesday. ``At this point, the shock is still in play and we're trying to come to grips.''
A third firefighter, Abe Wheeler, 39, remained in stable condition at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City with burns. He was expected to make a full recovery.
Two other firefighters were treated and released from Evanston Regional Hospital.
The fire swept through a complex of five town houses on the city's west side before being extinguished several hours later.
Around town, flags flew at half-staff. Friends and relatives of the fallen firefighters created a makeshift memorial with flowers, flags and notes placed on the men's pickup trucks, which were parked across from the fire hall.
"We love you Jake and you know it,'' read one note written in multicolored markers. Atop the cabs were the firemen's helmets, while their firefighting coats hung from the driver's side mirrors.
"These two memorials out here are reminders that two of our own didn't come home last night,'' Quinney said.
The Evanston Fire Department consists of four full-time firefighters and about 50 volunteers. Approximately 30 members battled the blaze, with help from about six or seven volunteer firefighters from nearby Bear River.
The fire was reported at 3:11 p.m. Monday after apparently starting in an end unit. Three of the modern, multilevel units were heavily damaged.
Few people were seen at the site Tuesday afternoon, and the driveway to the complex was blocked off as investigators prepared to sift through the rubble.
A joint investigation involving the Evanston Fire Department and state fire marshal's office was under way.
"They're at the scene right now as we speak, doing some of that work, trying to come up with that cause of not only the origin but of the explosion,'' Quinney said, "trying to help us understand what happened.''
"We're not ruling anything out,'' he said. "We're covering all the angles, from accidental to anything that might have foul play. ... There's a lot of possibilities, whether it's electrical, accidental, whether it was some sort of human involvement.''
A joint memorial service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Evanston High School. The community is reeling and will be for quite some time, Quinney said.
"It's devastating because not only have we lost members of our firefighting family, we've lost volunteers,'' he said. "These guys are not paid for what they do. They do it for love of service, love of the community."
"It's a devastating blow to the community as well as the firefighting family.''
Donations for the families of the fallen firefighters can be made at any Wells Fargo branch location under the Evanston Volunteer Firefighters Memorial Fund, in memory of Jacob Cook or Robert Henderson.
A farewell for both men is scheduled for Friday, April 22 from 6-8 p.m. at Crandles Funeral Home and the funeral for both men is set for Saturday, 11 a.m., at Evanston High School.