Family narrowly escapes with their lives in Halloween fire that leveled their Applegate home

Nov. 5—A Halloween night fire was a living nightmare for an Applegate family who lost everything in a 2 a.m. blaze that consumed their home — while seven people slept — in just moments.

Applegate resident Brandy Conaway said the screams of her 26-year-old son, Ostynn Cotton, have awakened her each night since the devastating fire that took her home — and nearly killed two family members — Tuesday morning.

All seven members of the extended family — ranging in age from 2 to 47 — had gone to bed after attending some community Halloween events. They'd volunteered at "Liam's Trunk or Treat" in Central Point over the weekend and spent Halloween night at a few different events with grandchildren — 2- and 4-year-old Logan and Carma.

Fire officials believe an electrical fire, likely due to a failed panel, started the blaze that consumed the older two-story house, on Whitewater Drive off Upper Applegate Road, in about 10 minutes.

Conaway, who had installed new smoke alarms just days before, heard her son banging on the walls and screaming for everyone to get out of the house. While her significant other, Chris Hunnel, helped alert family members, Conaway ran to the front of the house and scooped up her two grandchildren.

"I jumped out and ran toward the living room and looked toward the kitchen and laundry room. The whole house was on fire," Conaway said.

"At that instant, I heard my son screaming, 'I'm gonna die. I'm burning to death, Mom! Wake up! Get out of the house!' It was a blood-curdling scream that I'll never forget. I didn't realize at the time, but I think at first I thought he was outside calling for us to get out."

Conaway said she got the two little ones out of the house with only seconds to spare.

"I grabbed the 2-year-old off his bed and the 4-year-old off the couch — she was sleeping with her therapy bunny she had just got. The fire was over the top of us by the time I grabbed the two babies."

Two-year-old Logan wriggled out of Conaway's arms and clung to her leg. She pushed the boy toward the door using her foot and cleared the doorway, Carma still in her arms, as the ceiling collapsed on the first floor of the home.

"I don't think it was three minutes from waking up and hearing Ostynn's screams that the house was completely gone," Conaway recalled Friday. Seconds after Conaway got out of the house, Cotton broke out an area around a small upstairs window, his skin burning, and jumped, landing on an air conditioner and rocks below.

His brother, Conaway's other son, Bryce, rescued his girlfriend, Khanna Patterson, by tearing an air conditioner unit from a downstairs bathroom to pull her through a section of wall.

"My son Ostynn could hardly breathe because of smoke inhalation, and he looked like a melted candle, and the whole time he's apologizing that he couldn't wake us up faster — after waking up to being burned alive — to get us out of the house," remembered Conaway.

Cotton, 26, who was life-flighted to Legacy Oregon Burn Center in Portland, was burned on 35% to 40% of his body. He also suffered several spinal fractures and other injuries from jumping out the top-floor window. Medical staff told family it would take four to five days to know the full extent of his injuries.

Gathering in the aftermath, Conaway said the family scrambled to figure out hotel accommodations and replacement phones. A saving grace, she had booked two nights at a hotel near Roseburg for the 4-year-old, who has special needs, to travel for some medical testing.

Conaway said her mother had cashed in some "travel points" from a credit card to get the family two nights at a hotel in Portland, to check on Cotton.

While the family lost several pets, including a therapy bunny and some baby chicks, the family's three dogs and some miniature piglets survived. A nod to rural community living, Applegate Valley Fire District Chris Wolfard stepped up to foster two of the family's large-breed dogs.

Wolfard, who confirmed details of the fire, said several, if not all, members of the family would have perished in the fire if not for the smoke alarms.

Conaway said she "got a deal on Amazon Prime" weeks before the fire. The first batch didn't work, so she completed a return process and installed the second set three days before Halloween. Smoke alarms, and having secondary escape routes, prevented some or even all of the family from perishing in the fire.

"It was heavily involved before anybody even called 911, so the cards were stacked against us. As firefighters, we like to try to save the house, but when you don't get called before it's pretty much fully involved, we do what we can," Wolfard said.

"I'm fostering two of their dogs — was the least we could do. After the fire, all their family members were gathering around figuring out where each of them were gonna be able to go stay, how to find shelter and food and clothing. I just happened to be standing there, and they said the farm-type animals could stay at the property, but the dogs needed somewhere to go."

Conaway was transported to a local hospital for smoke inhalation and later suffered a cardiac event.

Ostynn, who likely will be out of work for "quite a long time," is expecting a baby with his partner in April, Conaway said Friday.

Bryce Cotton had worked all summer as a wildland firefighter and had all his savings, in cash, in the house. He'd been apartment hunting in recent weeks.

Dusty Newkirk, a family friend and Applegate resident, said the community has been supportive, but the family's needs are extensive. Newkirk said Ostynn is "one of the most kind and genuine people."

"He's a hardworking guy. He's got several different jobs. And he's just super nice; that's what sucks even more," Newkirk said.

"He's the kind of guy who will help anyone out. He has tons of friends. Always, always helping someone. His mom said he looked like a melted candle. It's just so devastating to go through so much, to lose everything and to basically be burned alive."

Conaway said family heirlooms, a full summer of canned goods and household pets were yet to be grieved. For now, the family is taking it "a few minutes at a time."

Heading to Portland Friday afternoon, Conaway said the family's immediate need is shelter, followed by replacing clothing and household items. Additionally, her son will have extensive recovery time and be out of work. The family co-habitated to share costs of living.

Adding insult to injury, Conaway said, when the flames had been put out and her son had been taken away by paramedics, the sky opened up.

"It just started to pour down raining. We were soaked. After the fire was already put out," she said.

"Eventually, we'll all be back in a safe spot. We'll figure it out. With Ostynn's injuries, as bad as they are, and me being in the hospital, we haven't had a minute to catch our breath and sit down and say what's next."

She added, "It's like when you're holding on to the edge, so you know you're probably safe, but you're not out of the water yet and you still feel like you're close to drowning."

When things "get back to some type of normal," Conaway said, she will raise awareness about the importance of smoke detectors.

"Even though we only got out, literally, with seconds to spare, I truly believe if we hadn't installed those smoke detectors ... I can't even think about what would have happened," said the mother.

"For the last few nights, I've been woken up hearing my son's screams in my head. Even though I know I'm in a hotel, safe and snuggling the 2-year-old ... every time I close my eyes, I kept hearing his screams in my head."

She added, "They told us we can see him, but nobody's allowed to touch him, which is hard. I desperately want to hold my son and comfort him, but all I can do is be positive and pray that he'll be OK."

A GoFundMe has been set up to help the family, https://bit.ly/3E3tbfQ

Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or bpollock@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.