W.Va. Fire Victim Describes Horror: 'I was Just So Afraid'

Several people burned in the fire remain hospitalized.


Feb. 09--Two minutes. That's how long it took for everything to change for the family of Paul "Chip" Ireland and his neighbors.

"I was just so afraid I wasn't going to get them out in time," said Ireland, referring to his wife, Barbara, and two grandsons, who are 2 and 4 years old.

Ireland spoke with The Dominion Post from his hospital room in West Penn Burn Center, in Pittsburgh.

"The first thing I remember was my wife waking me and telling me the drapes were on fire. I filled up a bucket of water and dunked it on the drapes and the cold water shattered the glass windows because they were so hot. At the time, I didn't realize the whole building was engulfed.

"When my wife opened the front door, a blast (back draft) knocked us both to the floor. After that, the first thing on my mind was getting the boys out. Since my wife was closest to the door, she would have the best chance of getting out. By the time I got to the boys' room, the smoke was so thick, I was ready to pass out."

Ireland opened the bedroom window to access the fire escape, but thick smoke pour out onto the fire escape.

"The hardest thing I had to do was close the window with the boys still inside. After I took a few breaths I opened it and yanked one of their beds over toward the window and pulled one of them out onto the fire escape."

The grandfather repeated the process to get his other grandson. With help from neighbors, he got them both down the fire escape ladder.

He said the time elapsed from waking up to getting outside was two minutes.

"Once I got the boys out, I started shouting. I found my wife. She was screaming in pain, and screaming 'Where were the kids?' I left all humility out in the snow. I was naked, burnt and looking for my wife."

Ireland did not recall how Barbara got out of the house.

'A long road ahead'

It was still dark outside on the morning of Jan. 31, when an apartment building on Nebraska Avenue, in Westover, was engulfed in flames.

Assistant State Fire Marshal Mackey Ayersman said, the inferno began as a kitchen fire in one of the apartments. The blaze spread to other units.

Ireland's 2-year-old grandson was released from Ruby Memorial Hospital three days after the fire. He is staying with relatives. The 4-year-old boy suffered minor burns to his face and ears and remains at Mercy Hospital, in Pittsburgh.

Ireland suffered burns to his right arm and hand and face. He received skin grafts at the West Penn Burn Center.

His wife, who suffered burns to half of her body, also had skin grafts and remains on a respirator, Ireland said.

"She has a long road ahead of her, but she's slowly improving. We've had such an outpouring of support, I think we're going to be fine. This is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."

David Mathews, who lived in the apartment below Chip, was also taken to Pittsburgh after suffering burns to his face and neck, while he was alerting neighbors of the fire. He was scheduled to be released from the West Penn Burn Center.

"I was on the fire escape and screaming 'Help, help, they've got kids!' " said Charles Goodwin, another tenant who got out of the building with his fiancee and four kids. "In the end, it was other tenants that helped us down. Neighbors came to get the kids out of the cold and give us clothes. They were awesome."

Goodwin said he and his family are staying with his m o t h e r.

"I wake up and all I see is orange. It was just like out of a horror movie," said Michelle Varner, who lived across the street. She and her family rushed out to help, giving out shoes, clothes and blankets.

"They brought me a little boy who wasn't breathing. I was in the back of a fire truck resuscitating him. There was only one truck on scene at the time so the firefighters were focused on the building. I was screaming, 'Lord Jesus, help this baby!' "

The child was Chip's 4-year-old grandson.

Finding help

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