Sun City fire claims home – Daily News-Sun

Sun City fire claims home

Annie Boon/Daily News-Sun
May 24, 2007

Sun City fire claims home.jpgA lifetime of memories went up in smoke Wednesday as Darlene and Sam Wheelen watched their Sun City condominium destroyed in minutes by a fire.

Sam, who suffers from chronic respiratory problems and is on oxygen, was transported to Sun Health Boswell Hospital in Sun City for smoke inhalation reportedly caused by his attempt to rescue a new motor scooter from the garage instead of immediately exiting the home, said Deputy Fire Marshal Ken Rice of the Sun City Fire Department.

Sam was admitted to Boswell for observation, hospital officials said. But his condition is unknown.

At about 3:45 p.m., fire crews from several West Valley cities responded to the fire, which had quickly spread from the Wheelens’ duplex home at 9642 N. 110th Ave. to the adjoining unit, which is vacant and for sale. The fire was contained by about 4:15 p.m. Rice said the Wheelens’ condo is a total loss, and the vacant unit may be as well. No cause has been determined, and an investigation is under way.

“They’ve lost everything. They had their life in that house,” said daughter Sharon Wheelen of Phoenix, who said her parents came to her aid in 1986 when her home burned down. “It’s like we flip-flopped — now they’re the victims.”

“Everything in their house had meaning. It wasn’t just furniture and things,” said cousin Diana Cooper of Sun City. “They’ll never be OK after this. This will be with them forever.”

Neighbors said they heard several resounding “booms” coming from the home before running out and seeing the flames. The Wheelens, married 57 years, escaped with the help of Duane Steckler of Sun City who saw the flames while passing by the Wheelens’ home.

Family is making arrangements to help the couple cope with their losses.

After the flames were extinguished, onlookers could see through the gutted condo and what was left of a car, smoldering in the garage.

Darlene, who is deaf, described her scare to fire crews. She was in a back room paying bills when in an instant, everything went dark.

“It looked like the lights went out,” Rice said. “The smoke curtain dropped so fast, all of a sudden it was pitch black.”

She hollered at her husband to get out of the house, but Sam made a stop to grab the motor scooter instead, Rice said.

“In the garage, he took in a lot of smoke,” Rice said. “Never go back in for anything.”
Neighbors Judy Johnson and Marie Smith said the booms could be heard nearly a quarter mile down the street.

“It was like a huge explosion. My husband thought a car had hit our house,” said Johnson, who lives about 10 homes down the block. “It’s so, so sad, those poor people. At this age, you can’t tell how they’ll get through something like this.”

“They’ve lived through World War II, the Depression and other hard stuff, I’m sure they are strong people,” Smith said.

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