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February 5, 2008

Two children killed in house fire

OTTUMWA — An investigation continues into a house fire that claimed the lives of two children and hospitalized their parents.

“The call came in a little after 6 [a.m. Tuesday] of a house fire with someone in the house,” said Ottumwa Fire Chief Steve O’Connor, who was still on the scene at 143 N. Willard St. late Tuesday morning. “South Station [personnel] got here in a minute and the house was fully engulfed.”

When firefighters entered the home, they saw holes being burned through the floors.

“When you go in and you encounter holes in the floor, your structural integrity is basically gone,” O’Connor said. “It becomes a death trap.”

They also had to be careful outside the home because of a live electrical wire on the ground. Though the walls remain standing, the inside of the home was completely gutted.

The girl and boy, Raven Umphress, 2 and Aiden Umphress, 11 months, may have died before 9-1-1 was even called, O’Connor said. The home was occupied by the children and their parents, Shawn and America Uhmphress.

A neighbor told the Courier he was just coming home from work after 6 a.m. when he saw a solid wall of smoke in the Five Corners area of Ottumwa. As he approached his own home, he saw 143 North Willard Street “with one whole side on fire.”

He dialed 9-1-1 but said plenty of others must have been doing the same, as he couldn’t get through. At that time, he saw people on the roof of the home trying to escape.

Ottumwa Deputy Fire Chief Mike Jones returned to the scene later Tuesday with a crew of firefighters and an investigator from the state fire marshal’s office. Jones said from what he has been able to piece together, the parents crawled out a second-story window onto the roof of the porch. From there, they jumped to the ground. Both parents were taken to Ottumwa Regional Health Center for injuries — a relative told the Courier that the father had been burned trying to rescue the children.

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