CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It was one year ago Sunday that seven children and two adults were killed in a house fire on Arlington Avenue.
The house was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters from a station just a block away arrived on scene.
Charleston Fire Chief Chuck Overstreet said he and his staff have spent a lot of time thinking about the events of March 24, 2012, during the past few weeks.
“The trauma of it coming up again and knowing it was going to be rehashed,” has been heavy on the mind of Overstreet, who said he’s concerned for the firefighters who responded to the fatal blaze.
“How are they going to deal with it? What questions are going to be brought back up? What emotions will be brought back up,” the chief said.
Alisha Carter-Camp, 26, and her three children — Keahana, 8, BJ, 7, and Jeremiah, 3 — were found inside their burning house, as was Carter-Camp’s boyfriend Alexander Seals, 24, and his two children, Gabrielle, 5, and McKenzie, 3. Carter-Camp’s 3-year-old nephew Elijah and 20-month-old niece Emmanuel Jones-Isabell died in the fire as well.
The sole survivor was Latasha Jones-Isabell. She was outside the house, smoking a cigarette at the time the fire spread through the home.
Overstreet said he can still remember the looks on his firefighters faces when they came out of the house after dousing the flames.
“Having to touch those kids, just looking and seeing the far away looks in the [firefighters] eyes,” was “terrible,” Overstreet said. “The helplessness, the gamut of emotions is just really hard to explain.”
The chief said some of his firefighters have gone for counseling, while others are dealing with the memories by keeping them close to their hearts and not talking about it at all.
The house had three smoke detectors, though none were working. After the tragedy, Overstreet said the city started a campaign to distribute smoke detectors to as many homes as possible.
“We have handed out so many, as well as the carbon monoxide detectors,” said Overstreet. “That is the positive that came out of that. The awareness is so much greater now.”
Fire inspectors never determined the exact cause of the fire but believe, if there had been a working detector in the house, the nine victims may have been able to survive.
The burned-out shell of the home on Arlington Avenue still remains, as the owner of the house has yet to have it demolished. On the sidewalk, in front of the house, are several stuffed animals, pictures and police tape.