Father: ‘I’m grateful that I didn’t die and I have my kids and family . . . .’
WINCHESTER — Marcus Yates stared gravely into the distance on Friday and recalled waking up to an apartment fire started earlier in the day by his 4-year-old son.
“I thought he was settled, he was watching TV,” Yates said from outside a temporary emergency shelter at the War Memorial Building in Jim Barnett Park.
So Yates, 22, decided to take a morning nap with his fiancee since he had to be at work later in the day.
He was half-asleep when he heard the “beep, beep, beep” of the fire alarm.
“I looked everywhere; I looked in the kitchen,” he said. “I went into the bedroom and there it was, this big flame on the bed, and I saw my son sitting there.”
After he was certain that his family had escaped, Yates first tried to put out the blaze, but that didn’t work. “[When] I knew I couldn’t defuse the situation, that’s when I started grabbing stuff.”
But the smoke became “too thick, too quick,” and he had to be pulled out of the building with no shoes, no phone and none of the items he grabbed.
“It’s painful,” he said, thinking about the blaze. “It’s hard enough to survive in this world today and to lose everything you’ve worked hard for; words can’t explain.”
Yates said he is “really not coping well with it,” and added that Friday was his fiancee’s birthday and that the two were planning to be married on that day and go out to dinner. The couple also have a 3-month-old daughter.
“I’m grateful that I didn’t die and I have my kids and family,” he said. “I’m grateful for smoke alarms.”
The blaze, which began shortly before 11:45 a.m. at the Bellview Apartments in the city, displaced 20 families and damaged 16 apartments.
City spokeswoman Amy Simmons said that because the Yates family was asleep when the little boy unintentionally started the fire, the alarms saved their lives.
She added that Winchester Fire and Rescue staff members will visit the Bellview Avenue area today to offer smoke alarm checks and free batteries.
All that was left at the scene of the fire on Friday night were families walking over glass and debris as they tried to get into their homes and gather what was left.
David Feltner, 19, said he, his fiancee and four children lost nearly everything.
“When I first walked in, I was reliving everything,” he said of his damaged unit. “It looked horrible, terrible.”
He said the windows were broken, the ceiling was half caved-in and the walls were covered with ash and soot.
Feltner said he and his family were moved to another apartment until they can determine their next step. “I didn’t really want to lose a place — it took so long to get a place for my kids.”
Jack Cleveland, 33, said he was not sure what his family lost in the blaze, but that it has already been a rough couple of years.
“Right now for me, honestly, I feel like snapping,” he said, reflecting that he was now unable to go home.
Cleveland lives in one of the scorched apartments with his fiancee and four children.
“[One of my children] was like ‘Daddy, are we going to get to go back home?’” he said. “How am I supposed to answer that? It broke my heart.”
He said the majority of people in the apartments are families, and estimated that about 30 of the 60 people displaced were children.
“That’s what makes it so sad,” he said. “I just pray that everyone gets through this; it’s a bad situation.”
— Contact Melissa Boughton at email@example.com