Fatal Indiana fire: `We tried our best to get the kids out'

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — An Indiana man who lived in a mobile home where four young children died in a fire says survivors did “everything we could” to try to rescue the kids.

The children — ages 2, 3, 5 and 10 — died Thursday morning in the blaze in Fort Wayne, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department said. Authorities have not released the names of the children, but an 18-year-old man who was among four people who survived the fire, Travis Garrison, spoke to The Journal Gazette.

“We tried our best to get the kids out. We did everything we could,” Garrison, of Waterloo, said.

The other survivors were Audrey Kistler, 24; her boyfriend, Samuel Barnett, 17; and the mother of the children, Jessica Mann, 30, all of Fort Wayne, the sheriff’s department said.

Garrison said he awoke from the heat of the fire in the Dupont Estates Mobile Home Park on the city's north side.

“It was blurry, smoky. I couldn’t see anything,” he said.

When Garrison couldn’t get the front door’s deadbolt unlocked, he rushed to the back door, he said.

“I was running through the house screaming, ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’ trying to get everybody’s attention and wake them up,” he said. “I came out the back door, and I was still screaming ‘Fire!‘”

After he escaped, Garrison said he pounded on the window of the room where Kistler and Barnett were sleeping, then went to the front where three of the four kids were in a bedroom.

Garrison said he heard Barnett break a window and learned Barnett forced Kistler out and followed. Mann escaped the back bedroom by pushing an air conditioner out.

Garrison tried to kick in the front door without success.

“I heard the kids screaming,” he said. “I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Kistler and others got on top of Garrison’s pickup truck and tried to get through the boys' bedroom window.

Neighbors called 911, and some joined the rescue efforts.

Shelby Wright, who lives across the street, said she went outside after hearing an explosion.

“There was too much smoke,” Wright said. “I couldn’t even breathe, couldn’t see.”

A second explosion made the situation worse, she added.

Garrison said he had heard a propane tank making a whistling noise before the fire got worse.

When the Fort Wayne Fire Department arrived at 8:33 a.m., the fire had spread throughout the mobile home, according to statements from the fire and sheriff's departments.

Firefighters had the blaze under control enough to enter the home at 8:56 a.m. and found the children's bodies, the fire department said.

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This story was first published on April 22. It was updated on April 26, 2022, to correct that the mother of the children killed in the fire is Jessica Mann.