PENDLETON — David Eickstaedt’s skin and lungs are healing, but memories of the smoke, flame and terror will likely linger.
Eickstaedt and another survivor jumped out second-floor windows to escape a fast-moving Sept. 22 house fire that killed two adults and three children. The Pendleton man said he jerked awake early that morning to the sound of pounding on a second-floor bedroom door down the hall.
“Mom, the house is on fire,” yelled six-year-old Evan Williams.
Inside the room slept Evan’s mother, Kay Williams, and Kristopher Morton. The little boy yelled three more times, Eickstaedt said, before Kay yanked open the door. In a short time, the ferocious blaze would take her three children (Evan, Rowan Harvey, 2, and Anabelle Harvey, 5 months), Morton, 29, and Eickstaedt’s fiancé, Treasa Philpott, 46.
Eickstaedt, 49, and Williams, 27, would jump to safety.
Reflecting on the fiery nightmare at 1220 S.E. Court Place, Eickstaedt removed his jacket to reveal burned arms and shoulders, bright pink with healing skin. His eyes grew moist as he described the terror and chaos.
He and Philpott had gotten drunk before falling asleep together, Eickstaedt admitted. They sobered up quickly when they heard Evan’s urgent shouts and smelled smoke. The couple looked out the window and saw flames shooting to the roof. They ran to the hallway to find a wall of intense heat. Below, they could hear cracking and popping as the fire consumed wood floors and walls and the home’s contents.
“It sounded like firecrackers,” he said. “I felt the heat on my forehead, eyes and ears. My arm started melting away.”
Rushing into another bedroom, Eickstaedt could see Kay below in the backyard, looking anxiously up at the window. Jumping seemed the only way out. Eickstaedt and Philpott disagreed about searching for the boys. Philpott wanted to try. Eickstaedt said he knew it was too late.
“Somebody needs to save those kids,” he remembers her saying.
She turned back. Eickstaedt jumped. He landed on his side and thinks he went unconscious for a short time. When he came to and realized Philpott and Morton hadn’t followed, he knew they were gone.
Pendleton firefighters arrived about that time, after getting the call about 6 a.m. and getting to the scene about two minutes later to find the home fully engulfed. Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts said emergency personnel rushed around back and heard a scratching sound at the back door. When a police officer kicked in the door, a dog rushed out.
“They contemplated entering the house, but the ceiling was already falling in,” Roberts said.
After firefighters extinguished the blaze, they found remains of Philpott, Morton and the two boys on the second floor and the baby downstairs.
Determining the fire’s cause may never happen, Roberts said. Investigators pinpointed the origin as the front porch, but don’t know why it ignited there. There are at least a couple of possibilities.
“We know from neighbors that at least one of the boys was outside at about 5:30 a.m.,” he said. “We’ve also been told there was a cigarette butt can on the porch and a lot of cardboard.”
Some people questioned by fire investigators said Evan had a history of starting little fires.
Roberts said an early rumor hypothesized that a meth lab caused the blaze. However, investigators scoured the burned house for meth-cooking tools and other remnants and found nothing. A search dog found no accelerants that could have been used in arson.