An adult and three children died Monday afternoon in a house fire on Devonne Drive in Winona, right behind the Starrville Church of the Living God off Highway 271.
One other male adult who ran from the burning home, was taken to a Tyler area hospital. Police said a neighbor had already called 911 and when the man ran out of the house, a volunteer firefighter was showing up in his personal vehicle and EMTs arrived shortly after with deputies and firefighters.
“When my deputies arrived on the scene, the fire was obviously too hot to get in the front (of the home). One of my deputies went around back of the house and he started hearing what he thought to be gun fire, which would be ammunition that was heating up in the residence and was going off,” said Smith County Precinct 4 Constable Josh Joplin. “At that time, he made his way around the back of the residence to try to get as close to windows as he possibly could. He did not see anything or hear anything that he believed to be any person, rather. But with live rounds going off in the house like that, they chose to go back to the front of the residence to avoid being shot by a live round.”
Smith County Fire Marshal Jay Brooks said the officers on scene were in recovery mode before investigating the cause of the fire.
“It is sad and unfortunate,” he said. “We ask for people to pray for the family and everyone out here.”
Brooks said there were zero fire fatalities in 2020 and there have been five in the first 11 days of 2021. He does not know if a lack of smoke detectors were part of the cause of the fatalities, but said it’s a reason to remind the public of the importance.
“We ask the public, it’s too early to know what caused this fire, but the $10 cost for a smoke detector is worth it, it saves lives. It’s a theme we have seen this year and we don’t want to,” Brooks said. “We want to see our citizens safe. Every one of these tears us apart and when they involve children, it really devastated everyone.”
Brooks also had reports of gunfire.
“We had some reports of some gun fire, bullets going off and that is typical in a house fire. That’s not uncommon in a house fire to hear those sounds,” Brooks said. “And it could be mistaken for pressed air or WD40. Anytime you have heat and expansion you have that stuff.”
“Ammunition has a certain sound, especially when you are in law enforcement, you are around firearms a lot. You know what a round sounds like when it goes off. But (Brooks) is right, compressed air, soft cans, paint, WD40, anything that is compressed air that is designed to project a liquid, if it gets hot, it can and it will explode,” Joplin said. “Other things like propane cans, things like that, if they had it in the house, but at this time, we are unable to verify what they had in the residence until we go inside and start doing some crime scene reconstruction and start the digging process and start moving things around.”
Brooks repeated his plea for smoke detectors.
“I just want to remind everyone, our loved ones are worth the cost of a smoke detector,” Brooks said. “If you don’t have access to one or can’t install one, reach out to our office, reach out to the Red Cross. I can’t say if any of the fatalities are related to no smoke detector but it’s something we have to remind people.”
Brooks added, “We can’t release any other information. We are going to be out here for some time.”
An update is expected at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Smith County Commissioners Court room.