Infant dies in Monday fire

Infant dies in Monday fire by David Lias Investigators are attempting to determine the cause of a deadly Monday house fire near Spink that claimed the life of a 2-month-old infant.

Timothy Andrew Smith, son of Dustin and Amy Smith, died in the fire, which started in the house shortly before 1 p.m. Monday.

Dustin Smith and the couple's 3-year-old son were in the house when the fire was discovered. Both escaped the residence, but Smith was unable to reach the baby through the smoke and flames.

Smith called 911 from the house after discovering the blaze. A dispatcher at the Union County Sheriff's office said she received the call at approximately 1:06 p.m.

"He was told by the sheriff's dispatch to get out of the house, and about the time he did that, they lost phone contact," said Elk Point Fire Chief Robert Charbonneau.

It took the Elk Point Fire Department about 10 minutes to get to the house, located three miles south of Spink. Those first to arrive on the scene reported heavy smoke and fire venting from the southwest corner of the structure.

"When they (the firemen)

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pulled up on scene, they talked to a sheriff's deputy that was there, who informed them that they had a person in the house," Charbonneau said.

Intense heat

Three Elk Point firemen donned air packs and other protective gear and entered the residence.

"When they got inside, they had fire rolling all over on top of them," Charbonneau said. "We had two guys that lost helmets; we had an air pack that was damaged due to the heat. It was so intense that they tried three different initial searches and they couldn't get in."

Firemen from Elk Point and Vermillion finally gained access from two different locations.

"One team went in through the back window, and another team went in through the front door on the west side of the house � one of Vermillion's crews did � and they were unable to find the victim."

Local ambulance and law enforcement personnel, including the crew of the rescue helicopter from Marian Health Center of Sioux City, IA, could only stand by helplessly and watch firemen fight a losing battle. Flames and clouds of thick, gray smoke poured from the building.

Shortly before 2:30 p.m., the helicopter rose above the smoky scene to fly back to Sioux City with only its crew aboard, a sign that chances of rescuing the occupant in the house were growing slim.

A strong attack

Firemen never lessened their attack against the flames, however. Charbonneau made sure there were enough resources to battle the blaze by calling for assistance throughout the area. Fire departments from Vermillion, Jefferson, North Sioux City, Akron, IA, Beresford, Gayville and Yankton all were asked to help. All responded with men, trucks and equipment.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m. Monday, firemen recovered the baby's body.

One of the biggest challenges facing the firemen was to keep a steady flow of water on the blaze. Because of the house's rural setting, every drop sprayed on the fire had to be hauled to the scene by pumper trucks.

Spink is only three miles from the residence, but it has no water tower.

"We figured we were approximately 10 miles from Elk Point, we were at least that from Vermillion, and Akron was that far away, if not farther," Charbonneau said. "It was just a long haul for water, which ever way we went. We had trucks going to both Vermillion and Elk Point filling. We used quite a bit of water."

The fire started on the ground floor of the two-story house, he said, and burned through the floors of the second story rooms, eventually breaking through the roof.

"It went through the second floor," Charbonneau said. "It started in the lower level, and then went straight up."

The last fire unit to leave the scene arrived at the Elk Point station shortly after 9 p.m. Monday. Charbonneau drove back to fire scene at 1 a.m. Tuesday, and he and a crew of four firemen went back to the Smith residence at 8 a.m. Tuesday in a tanker to cool off some hot spots that were smoldering.

Charbonneau said everything in the house was destroyed by the fire.

Blaze began in bedroom

State Fire Marshal Dan Carlson visited the burned house Monday night.

"The fire started in the southeast corner bedroom on the first floor, and that's the bedroom that was occupied by the victim," he said. "We haven't got a definite cause of the fire yet."

The fire marshal's staff is examining small electrical appliances that were removed from the bedroom.

"We're awaiting the results of the autopsy, and further examination of those electrical appliances," Carlson said.

Investigators possibly may never know the source of the fire.

"Because of the amount of damage to the bedroom, and the difficulty in fighting the fire, we may never determine the cause because of the amount of destruction," Carlson said.

Carlson noted that Davis singed his hair as he attempted to reach his infant son. And he made an observation that serves not so much as a source of solace, but more of a reminder that the grim outcome of Monday's fire could have been worse.

"I think we are very fortunate that we only have one fatality instead of three," he said.

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