Woman critically burned in fire

Wednesday, February 5, 2003
Firemen douse the smoldering remains of the trailer.

Winnie Steiner, 51, is in critical condition at a Salt Lake City hospital after suffering burns over 37 percent of her body when her trailer was destroyed by fire at Meadows Mobile Home Park Sunday morning.

Steiner, who is bound to a wheelchair, apparently suffered her burns when she had to pass through the flames of the fire in order to get out of the trailer.

"She's a tough, strong lady, to do that," said Fire Chief Phil Gridley, Jr., who added that officials at St. Alphonsus Medical Center had told him her chances "were only 50/50 considering the amount of burns she suffered."

One of Steiner's two adopted children also suffered minor injuries in the blaze that destroyed not only her mobile home, but that of Doug and Heather Schilz, next door, as well.

The incident began early Sunday morning when Steiner's 5-year-old son got out of bed. He went into the kitchen, crawled up on a chair, and retrieved a cigarette lighter from a kitchen cabinet, Gridley said.

He then went into his bedroom, which was located in the center of the trailer and lit a pillow on fire. He shook it to put the fire out, and some embers got on his 7-year-old sister.

"So he wouldn't get in trouble, it appears he decided to hide it under a pile of clothes," Gridley said. The childen then went outside to play, closing the door behind them, and leaving the pillow to smolder.

When the smoke alarm went off, the fire already had become fully involved in the bedroom, had blown out the window and vented to the air. Steiner, in order to exit the trailer from the back bedroom to get to the wheelchair ramp on the porch, had to pass through the flames in the hallway coming from the bedroom, suffering severe burns as she did so. She then wheeled herself nearly 100 yards down the trailer court roadway to seek help.

"When she woke up, the trailer was completely engulfed in flame," Gridley said.

Fire crews were paged out at 8:10 a.m. By 8:12 a.m. the first fireman, Ricky Van Meer, was on the scene. The flames from the Steiner trailer, spurred by 30-40 mph winds, had already jumped the 15-foot gap between it and the next trailer in the line, where the Schilz family was sleeping, and he could see vapors starting to emerge.

Van Meer ran to the Schilz trailer and pounded on the door, waking them up and helping them evacuate their home just before the flames caught hold and exploded throughout that structure, Gridley said.

By 8:15 a.m. the first fire trucks began arriving on the scene, Gridley routing trucks from both the city and rural fire stations to the trailer park.

"When we left (the fire station), we could see a column of smoking going straight up into the sky," Gridley said. "By the time we got there, the wind had kicked up, and smoke was everywhere. It was so thick, you couldn't see anything. We weren't even sure what we had, how many trailers were involved when we first got there. The smoke was so thick at first we didn't even spot a live power line that had fallen down between the two trailers."

The Steiner trailer was obviously a loss at that point, heat passing above the 1800-degree melting point of the aluminum siding. Fire crews put their initial efforts into stopping the fire in the Schilz trailer, before any other trailers were threatened.

Because of a lack of hydrants in the trailer park (it is outside the city limits), fire crews had to rush out to Airbase Road to fill up their tankers from a hydrant just across from the mobile home park. In less than 15 minutes the 22 fireman who responded to the blazes with five fire trucks had knocked both fires down, but it was over an hour before all the hot spots were extinguished. Both trailers were totally destroyed in the fire.

Gridley praised the residents of the mobile home park for their restraint. "They stayed back, out of the way, kept the roads clear for our emergency vehicles, and in general were very well behaved."

Steiner was transported to the municipal airport where she was loaded aboard a LifeFlight helicopter and taken to St. Alponsus Regional Medical Center. From there she was flown quickly to the burn unit in Salt Lake City.

The two young Steiner children have been provided a foster care home with Jim Ward, temporarily.

Heather Schilz, who works at Meadows Mobile Home Park, has already been provided with another trailer for her and her husband by the park manager, Gridley said.

Gridley said the fire department's burn fund and the Red Cross have been activated to help the families, but donations of cash to help with Steiner's recovery and other expenses incurred by both of the affected families should be sent to the fire department, 220 S. 2nd East St. "We'll make sure the money gets to the right people," he said.

The main needs for both families now are clothing and household items, which can be dropped off at trailer #81 in Meadows Mobile Home Park.

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