Family escapes as home burns
By JAMIE JONES, Times Staff Writer
SPRING HILL -- Rhonda Oakes wore pink slippers with small satin bows as she walked across pine straw in her back yard on Thursday. Her blond ponytail swayed as she leaned toward her trailer and looked inside.
Oakes, 24, lifted her hand and covered her mouth. Tears came.
"The crib," she said softly. "There's nothing left of it."
It seemed like just moments ago when the Oakeses and their three children had awakened Thursday morning, their biggest worry a flu bug that had left them aching.
As usual, Aaron Oakes, 25, headed for work at Home Depot shortly before 8 a.m. His wife rose to take care of their three boys: ages 7 weeks, 2 and 4. The oldest boys settled in front of the television and Mrs. Oakes put her youngest in a swing in the living room. Still tired, she lay down on the couch and slept.
The smell startled her. She opened her eyes and saw only thick, black smoke. She stepped toward the swing and grabbed her baby, Ayden. She could not find the two boys. "Austin, Ashton," she screamed.
She heard a whipping roar as flames glowed. They glided up her wooden cabinets and walls, enveloped the television set, ate holes in the floor and caused windows to burst into tiny fragments that collected in glistening pools across the floor.
Mrs. Oakes stood at the front door and opened it, willing her two boys to emerge.
"Austin, Ashton," she screamed.
They appeared by her side.
She pushed them onto the porch and ran down Olson Road, going door to door until she found a neighbor at home and called 911.
First two, then four, then six, then 18 firefighters arrived about 10 a.m. and sprayed a foamy substance into the trailer, which had melted into a damp, blackened box of goods that the family had spent the past six years collecting.
Before noon, Mrs. Oakes surveyed her rental property, listening to the drip, drip, drip of water falling from the metal structure onto pine straw.
Mr. Oakes stood nearby, wearing jeans and his Home Depot cap. He had rushed home after hearing about the fire. He didn't say a word as he ran toward his loved ones and grabbed each of them. Every couple of minutes, he looked toward them, making sure.
"We're going to pull some of the toys out of there -- the washable ones," Capt. Bob Hampton of Spring Hill Fire Rescue told Mr. Oakes.
"Pull out everything you can," he replied. "There are probably some things I can salvage that you don't think I can."
Everything the family owned was in the trailer: the baby seat, shoes, clothes, pictures, jewelry.
"I'm providing for all of us," Mr. Oakes said. "We were just getting by. But what can you do?"
The family did not know where they would sleep Thursday night, but were talking to relatives and friends in the area.
As firefighters began to leave, Mrs. Oakes kept watch over her baby, the sleeves of his white jumper covered in soot. Tears still flowed as she watched her two older boys chase each other down the street, one playfully hitting the other with a palm branch.
Mr. Oakes thought he would go back to work Thursday afternoon.
"I better get started," he said. "Need to build it all back up again."
A representative from the state Fire Marshal's Office said investigators had no information Thursday about the cause of the blaze. Their investigation continues.
-- Jamie Jones covers law enforcement and courts in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6114. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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