Parents reeling after fire claims lives of 2 sons, grandma says - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 8:35 am / Updated at 7:34 pm
Parents reeling after fire claims lives of 2 sons, grandma says

A toddler who escaped a deadly Omaha fire wrapped in a blanket is in need of clothing, her grandmother said Thursday.

Thirteen-month-old Adrianna Rodriguez and her mother, Champaine Harn, 18, got out of their burning mobile home early Wednesday. But brothers Gabriel and Brandon Rodriguez, ages 3 and 3 months, respectively, died in the fire near 129th Street and West Maple Road.

Tammy Salas, the children's grandmother, said Adrianna had no clothes until staff members at Creighton University Medical Center contributed an outfit. Friends of the fire victims have since contributed two outfits and a winter coat.

“Adrianna needs everything right now,” Salas said. “The Stogdill family, very good friends, were the first to help but there are a lot of things she is going to need.”

Adrianna and her mother were taken to Creighton by ambulance. Adrianna was discharged to the care of family members, but Harn was in critical condition Thursday, a hospital spokeswoman said. She is expected to survive.

Salas said her daughter and the children's father, Victor Rodriguez, are “still in shock” over the loss of their sons. Rodriguez, she said, is grateful for assistance the family has received from his workplace, Affordable Exteriors.

“(The parents) are not handling this very well at all right now,” Salas said. “They are devastated and so is everyone else.”

The Omaha Professional Fire Fighters Association has established a fund to help benefit the family and contributed the first $1,000. The public can make donations to the “Fire Fatality Benefit Fund” at the Omaha Fire Fighters Credit Union, in person or by mailing contributions to 4630 S. 143rd St., Omaha, NE., 68137.

Clothing and other items, as well as cash donations, will be accepted at the Maplewood Estates manager's office, 12801 Spaulding Plaza. Adrianna wears size 18 months clothes. Harn wears size small tops and 24 waist pants. Her fiance, Victor Rodriguez, wears XL tops and 36X30 pants.

The Maplewood Estates office is situated at the north end of the mobile home park, where the fire occurred. The donations can be dropped off Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Assistant Fire Chief Shane Hunter said Thursday.

Two boys' deaths in Omaha mobile home blaze leave firefighters, neighbors shaken

Read a statement issued by Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert on the fatal fire.
More photos from the fire scene.

Hours after the smoke had cleared, Christmas lights still hung from the house's charred carport. Siding on the home was mangled and melted. The roof was blackened. Two little boys were gone, killed in a fire that ripped through an Omaha mobile home with such speed and intensity that it left neighbors and firefighters shaken. “All these kids around here will be devastated,'' said Robin Cleaver, wiping away tears. “How do you explain what happened to little kids?”

The trauma was etched on the faces of firefighters, said Dan Olsen, acting assistant Omaha fire chief.

“This is hard on everyone,” Olsen said.

Gabriel Rodriguez, 3, and his 3-month-old brother, Brandon Rodriguez, died in the fire at Maplewood Estates, which is near 129th Street and West Maple Road.

Their mother, Champaine C. Harn, 18, and 1-year-old sister, Adrianna Rodriguez, escaped.

Both were taken to Creighton University Medical Center in serious condition, but their injuries were not considered life-threatening, said Lt. Darci Tierney, an Omaha police spokeswoman.

Olsen said the cause of the blaze had not been determined, but there didn't appear to be anything suspicious about the fire. The State Fire Marshal's Office was assisting in the investigation.

Some neighbors said the family used space heaters to warm the home. Olsen said he didn't know anything about that.

He said responders found a broken fire hydrant near the burning home, but it did not compromise firefighters' efforts to combat the blaze.

The Fire Department routinely dispatches filled tanker trucks to fires, Olsen said, and firefighters had easy access to other hydrants to refill them.

“The issue wasn't with hydrants affecting the outcome,” Olsen said. “When our guys arrived, the outcome of those (two) lives had already been determined.''

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Utilities District said the utility is not responsible for maintaining the hydrants at Maplewood Estates. She said they are private hydrants that are owned by the mobile home park.

Neighbor Laurie Thompson said sirens and the roar of firetrucks shattered the morning quiet just after 8 a.m. as she was baby-sitting.

“I was thinking about making gingerbread houses and Christmas things when all of a sudden it was chaos outside,” Thompson said. “I went outside. It was just black with smoke.”

She said firefighters were “working like crazy” to rescue two children trapped inside 12816 Manderson Plaza, Lot 203.

Olsen described the fire as “severe'' and said billowing smoke could be seen for miles. The blaze was so hot, he said, that two hoses melted.

“The fire crews did everything they could to attack this fire,” Olsen said. “They made a very valiant effort to attack this fire and make a rescue.”

Neighbors said a visibly shaken man stood behind the burning home and told them that he had heard a baby crying inside.

“I tried to get in,” he told them. “I kicked in the door to get to the baby. But it was too hot, and I couldn't do it.”

Olsen said five people lived inside the home.

He said Harn's fiance was at a construction site when the fire broke out. The man was contacted and told that he was needed at the hospital.

Neighbor Mary Townley, 67, who has lived at Maplewood Estates for 10 years, called the deaths “horrible.''

She said she had seen the children playing outside the home in the past.

“We've never had anything like this around here. It's been really nice,'' Townley said. “I live here because I feel safe here.''

Omaha has now recorded five fire fatalities in 2013. The Wednesday fire was the second fatal mobile home fire in the metropolitan area this year.

A woman in her 60s and her 7-year-old grandson died Feb. 23 in their Bellevue mobile home. State investigators said that fire was caused by either combustible material coming in contact with a space heater or electrical wiring problems.

World-Herald staff writers Emerson Clarridge, Maggie O'Brien and Alissa Skelton contributed to this report.


Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert's statement on the fatal fire

"This morning, two young children died in a tragic fire in their home in west Omaha. The mother and sister were also injured in the fire but have survived. This family has suffered an unimaginable loss and as a community, we send our sincere sympathies.

"The Omaha firefighters and paramedics worked desperately at the scene but the fire destroyed the mobile home quickly. They are to be commended for their efforts.

"We mourn all loss of life. At this time of year, the death of two young children is especially difficult. I hope we will all keep this family and the first responders in our thoughts and prayers."

Contact the writer: Jay Withrow

jay.withrow@owh.com    |   402-444-1259    |  

Jay covers crime, weather, breaking news and other stories for Omaha.com.

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