Trapped in a home engulfed in flames, a man scrambled to try to figure out how to get his girlfriend and their two children out safely.
“Fire! Fire!” Justin Fletcher yelled before eventually breaking through a bedroom window to lower himself along with their children — a 4-year-old and a 5-month-old — to safety.
But their mother never made it out.
Brittany Eskew’s body was found by Haralson County firefighters Thursday morning once the flames subsided. Her burns were so bad that her body has been taken to a GBI crime lab to confirm her identity, the county’s deputy coroner Chase Croft told AJC.com.
Fletcher was able to get the two kids out of the home mostly unscathed, but he’s been on a ventilator in critical condition at Grady Memorial Hospital ever since, homeowner Sheila Hopson said.
The couple moved into Hopson’s home in Tallapoosa and began paying rent a month or two ago.
She believes a faulty space heater in the living room is what caused the two couples so much pain.
Eskew, a 24-year-old mother of four, was home with two of her kids all day, and she likely wasn’t aware the space heater was unsafe, leaving it on when they all went to bed, Hopson said.
Hopson and her boyfriend, Richard Thomas, woke up around 6 a.m. after hearing Fletcher’s panicked screams. Thomas ran for the door to the hallway, but he quickly realized that wasn’t an option.
“I opened the door and immediately got burned and took in some smoke,” said Thomas, whose burns required skin graft surgery that night.
Hopson, who also breathed in some smoke, described it as the “thickest black smoke you could imagine.”
The heat from the hallway was so intense that they don’t think anyone — not even firefighters — could’ve moved from room to room.
Thankfully, the two children weren’t sleeping in the third bedroom like usual and were instead in the room with Eskew and Fletcher, likely saving their lives.
“It’s a blessing (the kids) were with them,” Hopson said. “There’s no way anyone could’ve gotten through the hallway.”
Hopson and Thomas ended up unlatching their bedroom’s window and escaped.
There are no neighboring houses on Gillette Road, so they quickly ran to their closest neighbor to try to get help.
“I looked up and saw an orange flame going straight up,” Hopson said. “We had to run to the nearest neighbor, and they called the fire department for us. The whole thing might have been 10 minutes, but the whole (house) was engulfed in red flames that quickly.”
While they ran to call 911, Hopson said she assumed Fletcher was trying to get his girlfriend out of the house, which is why he was so badly hurt.
Firefighters arrived within five minutes of the 911 call, but more than half of the home was already intensely ablaze, Haralson Fire Chief Brian Walker said.
The home didn’t have a working smoke detector, meaning the fire was already spreading before anyone inside woke up.
“For everyone to have smoke inhalation and burns — and unfortunately a deceased, we know they didn’t get up in time,” Walker said.
The Red Cross is assisting both families after the fire, including providing emergency resources such as lodging, food and clothing, spokeswoman Ashley Henyan said.
GoFundMe pages for Eskew and Fletcher have been started to raise funds for Eskew’s funeral and Fletcher’s hospital bills. As of Tuesday evening, Eskew’s page had raised more than $1,300, and Fletcher’s page had raised $100.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Walker said.
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