Former renter says mobile home was dangerous

By Scott Johnson, General assignment reporter, sjohnson@wjxt.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 08:40:42 AM EDT
Updated On: Jun 18 2014 11:16:07 PM EDT

When firefighter arrived, the double-wide mobile home was consumed by fire.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

A mobile home fire in Oceanway that killed a grandmother and three small children Tuesday night hit home for the man who used to rent the mobile home.

Ricky Dunn said he wasn't surprised the trailer caught fire. Hattie Fowler, 6, was the lone survivor of that fire, which killed her siblings, 10-month-old Janet Fowler, 2-year-old Rachel Fowler and 4-year-old Richard “Bubba” Fowler Jr., and their 53-year-old grandmother, Sheila Swearingen.

Dunn said he was forced to move from the mobile home eight months ago because he was so concerned that the electrical outlets would cause a fire. He said driving by the burned out double-wide was hard for him on a different level because he knew the mobile home was dangerous.

IMAGES: Fire destroys home, takes 4 lives
Funeral expenses donation account at EverBank: 0010021914
Routing No. 063092110

“I've got young kids of my own I'm raising, and I couldn't live there anymore,” Dunn said. “Every time you plugged something into the house into an electrical socket, it would throw sparks.”

Firefighters said they don't believe the fire was started by an electrical malfunction, but they've yet to determine a cause. Firefighters also haven't confirmed if there were working smoke detectors in the home.

Fire safety experts have said older mobile homes burn very quickly, which is why neighbors like Jason Deraway weren't able to do much for the four people who died -- the flames were too intense.

“I tried to enter, and flames came shooting out the back door, and I realized I couldn't enter there, so I went around to the front, and the windows exploded, and that time I could hear the grandmother screaming for help,” Deraway recalled.

Despite caution tape, a makeshift memorial for the Oceanway family continued to grow on Wednesday, as people crossed the tape to add to the mound of stuffed animals and heartfelt cards in front of the mobile home.

Family, neighbors and friends of the family caught in the blaze came to pay their respects.

“It's heartbreaking,” said Steven Rowland. “I know the babies. I've seen them. I've been out here 23 years and known them all as long as they've been alive.”

Rowland said he knows the children's father and is praying for the family.

“(I) used to ride JTA with the father, because I ride a bicycle everywhere I go. I see him just about every day, just truly heartbreaking,” Rowland said. “Any time that it's children, it's a lot worse, but for anyone to lose their lives in a tragic way like this is hard.”

Darcy Nelson said the neighborhood is coming together to help the family however it can. Many neighbors either knew of the children or had children who played with them.

“It just hits close to home because, I have four kids,” Nelson said. “It's hitting all of us hard, not just Oceanway but the whole Northside.”

News4Jax has reached out to the property owners where the mobile home was located but hasn't been able to get in touch with them yet.

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