Livingston Parish man recalls fatal fire at neighbor’s mobile home

DENHAM SPRINGS, LA (WAFB) - Mervin Fontenot says he had gone to bed when he heard someone banging on his door just after 11 p.m. Thursday.

"I thought the door was coming down. My first reaction, I reached toward the nightstand. I was going to get my pistol because I thought it was someone trying to break in. Ain't no telling what happens these days. But I just closed the drawer [without getting the gun] and got up."

Fontenot lives in one of four homes along Curry Davis Drive, a secluded road off of Range Avenue (LA Hwy 16) about a mile and a half north of Denham Springs.

When he opened the front door, his 13-year-old neighbor fell over the threshold and onto his floor. The girl, who was badly burned, had run about 50 yards to Fontenot's house from her grandparents' mobile home to get help.

As he tried to comfort the girl, she started saying "The house is burning, the house is burning! Poppi and Mimi need help!" She also told him her 6-year-old sister was still in the mobile home. Fontenot looked out the window and could barely make out the smoke coming from the mobile home due to the fog. He asked his wife to attend to the 13-year-old girl while he ran out to help his neighbors.

Fontenot says he moved with a sense of urgency. It was only a little over 5 years ago, on his property in January 2012, when he suffered third-degree burns to 35 percent of his body. On that day, he was burning trees and underbrush that had been cleared from his property. He says he made the mistake of pouring gasoline over still-burning embers he thought were out, which ignited in an explosion that shot him 27 feet across the yard and landing onto of a dirt pile.

When Fontenot ran out of his house late Thursday night, he saw his neighbor Deborah Lowrance, 53, by her mailbox in front of the mobile home. He immediately noticed that she was badly burned and moved her to the tailgate of her husband's truck to get her off her feet and calm her down.

Fontenot said he could not see any flames inside of the house. He tried to open the front door, but it was locked. Deborah instructed him to try the back door. Due to the lack of street lights on his street, Fontenot drove his truck around to the back of the mobile home to illuminate the area with his headlights.

As Fontenot walked up to the back door, one of the glass windows blew out. He opened the back door but could not safely enter the mobile home because of the high flames. Fontenot said he heard a noise, which sounded like someone trying to move around. He called out "Louie," several times, a name the grandfather Jesse Lowrance, 57, went by but heard no response.

"When the flames went up I backed off because I would have been in there too. I've been through that once before."

Fontenot returned to the front of the house just as firefighters and paramedics were arriving at the scene. "So I told the fireman, 'One of y'all need to attend to her [Deborah Lowrance]' and to the other one I said, 'Y'all need to break down that door and get them houses in there.' So, I helped them [firefighters] run the houses and stuff up on the front porch."

Firefighters then broke a window near the front door to spray the flames with water before entering the home, Fontenot said. "They [firefighters] stayed there and fought it until they got the flames out."

More emergency responders arrived after the fire was extinguished. Fontenot said he helped paramedics by driving his truck back to his house and put the injured 13-year-old girl wrapped in blankets into the back of his truck. He then drove the truck to the convergence of emergency vehicles and helped paramedics load the girl into the back of an ambulance.

"You couldn't get a snail through there last night there was so many [emergency vehicles]."

Fontenot's 13-year-old neighbor asked that he ride with her in the ambulance in the hospital. He said he reassured the girl that everything thing was fine, including the status of her grandfather and little sister. He stayed at the hospital with his neighbors until a firefighter drove him home at 4 a.m.

Fontenot's neighbor Jesse Lowrance and Lowrance's 6-year-old granddaughter Kenley Lowrance died in the fire, according to Chief Deputy Brant Thompson of the Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office.

Deborah Lowrance and her 13-year-old granddaughter were taken to the Baton Rouge General Burn Center to be treated for severe burns and smoke inhalation. Thompson said the 13-year-old girl was later transported to University Health hospital in Shreveport for treatment.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but fire officials have determined the fire started in the living room of the mobile home which did not have working smoke alarms.

When asked about fire safety, Chief Thompson told WAFB over the phone, "Never re-enter a building that is on fire. Leave firefighting to the professionals."


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