Children identified in fatal Winona house fire

Fire

WINONA, Texas (KETK) – The three children who were killed in the Winona house fire were identified by Smith County Fire Marshal Jay Brooks.

The children were: 5-year-old Elyja Anthony Damé Newman, 2-year-old Travis Everette Harris, and 1-year-old Saphira Khalessi Rose Harris.

Earlier this week, Brooks identified the mother Brittany Stewart, 24, who also died in the fire.

“The Smith County Fire Marshal’s Office is committed to getting answers for the family of Ms. Stewart and her children as to what happened in this tragic fire,” Brooks said.

Brooks also said that the Fire Marshal’s officer is awaiting the results for the cause of the fire.

“Our hearts go out to the families of Ms. Stewart and her three beautiful children, as well as Mr. Harris,” Brooks said.

Edwin Harris, 31, survived the fire and suffered non-life threatening injuries. He was the father of the two younger children.

On Monday, Jan. 11 around 11:30 a.m., a fire was reported in the 18400 block of Devonne Drive off of U.S. Highway 271, in the Starrville area of Smith County.

A volunteer White Oak firefighter who was in the area stopped to help Harris, who was attempting to put the fire out and rescue family members inside the burning home. A unit from UT Health EMS also arrived and assisted, followed shortly by deputies of the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office. The fire grew rapidly and hindered rescue efforts. Harris was transported to a Tyler hospital.

Photo of Winona home, photo courtesy of Smith County

Fire Departments from Winona, Lindale, Red Springs, Jackson Heights, Flint-Gresham and Gladewater, as well as members of the command staff from Emergency Services District 2 and the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, responded to the fire, which took firefighters about three hours to extinguish.

Brooks urged everyone to check their smoke detectors to make sure they are working.

“Make sure your smoke detectors are working. It’s a cheap device that can save your life. Close the doors to your room when you’re sleeping. You’d be surprised at the level of safety that can provide,” said Brooks while giving updates at the scene Monday afternoon.

Ryan Wright, a man who lives nearby, shared that he hasn’t seen anything like this. “It’s very tragic, especially being a mother and three kids deceased, it’s very tragic,” said Wright.

KETK was outside the home in Winona on Tuesday where the home now sits in ruins. Several neighbors walked nearby the home in shock at the sight, and some decided to share some of their emotional memories with us.

Gary Kirk, a neighbor who knew the family, choked up as he remembered Brittany’s children playing outside. While recounting his memories, overcome with emotion, he could barely speak. “It’s sad, I heard some sirening in my house yesterday, and I told my little brother, ‘there’s sirens, man. I pray for the babies’…” said Kirk. His friend was by his side to comfort him.

Their neighbor’s home is now left in ruins. All that’s left is an outlined structure, a collapsed roof, and ashes covering almost everything else. Rusted toys were scattered throughout the front lawn, an eerie reminder of the tragic loss.

“They’re good people, you know, never do anything wrong,” said Kirk.

The building was surrounded by caution tape, meant to keep strangers away as investigators get to the bottom of what happened.

“I ask for your patience because this is a significant event, we want to make sure that we are doing justice for this family, so we want to make sure this particular investigation definitely takes some time….“I can tell you that we believe that the electricity was out in the area. We also believe that a wood-burning stove had been at use some point prior to the fire, and we have reason to believe it started near the center of the home.”

Jay Brooks, Smith County Fire Marshall

According to the Smith County Fire Marshal, Jay Brooks, no one nearby heard the beeping sound of the smoke alarm. He then followed with urgency and stressed the importance of having one installed.

“We’re gonna do everything in our power to make sure there are working smoke detectors in every house of Smith County,” said Brooks.

A GoFundMe account was set up to raise money for Edwin Harris after he lost four members of his family.

Eddie Harris, who started the fund, said that Harris is his brother and that Stewart was his sister-in-law and the children were his nephews and a niece.

As of Thursday afternoon, the fund had raised about $5,000. Click here to donate.

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