Monday, March 16, 2009
inside a burning trailer
USMC veteran Bob Ashburn today at Diamond Valley RV Park
By Guy McCarthy
SAN JACINTO - "It was massive smoke, fire and heat," Bob Ashburn, 51, said today, recalling the scene Friday night inside a burning trailer.
"At first I couldn't see anybody," Ashburn said. "I stepped out and took a bunch of deep breaths, went back inside - through the living room - to some steps by the bathroom.
"That's when I saw Tom, through the smoke. I could see the flames on him."
Flames were shooting through the roof and dense smoke poured from the vents and door of the trailer when Ashburn went in, and he came out with his neighbor on fire but still alive.
In one of his first public interviews since the rescue effort, Ashburn said today he remains concerned for Tom, who is reportedly still clinging to life in a local hospital.
Neighbors and officials at the Diamond Valley RV Park have so far identified their critically burned neighbor by his first name only. They said today Tom remains in an induced coma with a 50-50 chance of survival.
The fire was reported at 6:11 p.m. Friday at the Diamond Valley RV Park in the 300 block of North State Street, said Cal Fire-Riverside County Capt. Casey Hartman.
"I was barbecuing outside my unit when a neighbor said 'There's smoke,' " Ashburn said. "I ran over this way and hollered 'Fire in the park!' to let people know, like we practiced.
"The door was open and flames were coming out the top" of Tom's trailer, Ashburn said. "A lot of smoke was coming out the door."
Ashburn said his reactions to the situation inside the trailer were automatic.
"Flames were coming out one of the doors inside but I felt I could dash up there and have a look," Ashburn said. "When I saw Tom side-stepping out I don't think he realized he was on fire.
"He said, 'Bring a hose, the fire's in here.' I grabbed him by the chest and hands - the only part of him that wasn't burning - and tugged him. He wanted to go back and I said 'No!' He was still trying to go back even though he had flames on him."
Ashburn rushed Tom outside, where neighbors doused him with a hose and a fire extinguisher.
Tom remained semi-conscious outside, in spite of his severe burns.
"He said he wasn't covered by insurance, that this is all he had," Ashburn said.
The burned man suffered second-degree burns over 40 percent of his body as well as airway injuries, said Cal Fire-Riverside County spokeswoman Cheri Patterson.
"Most of the damage they are concerned about is to his lungs, from inhaling the hot smoke," said Jerry Castorena, maintenance manager at Diamond Valley RV Park.
Investigators were at the park Saturday and Sunday but had not told Castorena or anyone else in the community what they had learned about the cause of the fire, Castorena said.
The Diamond Valley RV Park is home to about 140 trailers, RVs and mobile homes, said Ethan Moser, an assistant to the RV park's manager.
The resident who was burned is a permanent resident of the park, Moser said.
The fire destroyed a "fifth-wheel travel trailer" - where the rescue occurred - but did not spread to any other homes or trailers.
"We were lucky there were no winds the other night," Castorena said. "It would have been an inferno."
A firefighter was hospitalized with a minor ankle injury, Patterson said.
Ashburn is an unemployed iron and electrical worker with construction experience. He served in the Marine Corps from 1977 to 1986.
"I'm just thankful that Tom's still hanging in there," Ashburn said. "Hopefully he'll be doing better."