AP NEWS

Fire on 1st night in home nearly fatal

January 4, 2019

Brenda Walker was delivering newspapers in the Pine Valley neighborhood the morning the apartment house where she lives on Taylor Street caught fire.

“I got a phone call that ‘our apartment is on fire and I can’t get our daughter out,’” Walker said Thursday as she continued her vigil over her 6-year-old daughter, Maelyn, at a hospital.

Maelyn Walker, who was “in the smoke” for at least 15 minutes, was released from the hospital later Thursday.

On New Year’s Day, firefighters were called to 1305 Taylor St. at 4:18 a.m. They arrived four minutes later and had the fire under control at 5:03 a.m., according to a Fort Wayne Fire Department report.

When firefighters arrived, heavy flames and smoke were coming from the rear of the two-story home and one woman had been rescued by a pedestrian, the fire department said.

Brenda Walker’s roommate, Andrew, and her 3-year-old daughter, Hope, had escaped the fire, but Maelyn was still inside.

“My 3-year-old is fearless, and she walked right through the smoke. The 6-year-old was terrified and afraid to get out of the bed,” said Walker, who raced home, fearing Maelyn had perished in the fire.

Firefighters pulled her from the second-story bedroom that was in the front of the house. Maelyn was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

Walker and her family had just moved into the upstairs one-bedroom apartment, one of three apartments in the 1,700-square-foot home built in 1890, according to Allen County tax records.

“No one knew we had finally moved in that night,” Walker said. “We had been working on things moving in.”

Something that seemed amiss was water from the kitchen sink leaking into the downstairs apartment, she said. And firefighters reported there were wires down in the back of the house, presenting problems for the crews.

Walker, 33, said the move to the cheaper apartment from a rented house on Kentucky Avenue was temporary. She’s determined to move back to southern Indiana, where she said it’s calmer and safer.

The Fort Wayne native and Elmhurst High School graduate said SMS Property Management in Fort Wayne manages both the Taylor Street apartment house and the Kentucky Avenue home, and the company allowed them to move back into the house.

“We hadn’t turned in the keys yet,” Walker said of the Kentucky Avenue home.

Sean Stinson, SMS’s owner, said he began managing the Taylor Street property last summer and the home is up to building code standards as far as he knows. The home is owned by Richard and Dianna Miller of Nappanee, tax records show.

Stinson said his management company makes repairs with the owner’s approval.

“We expect tenants to report (problems) to us,” Stinson said. His company signed the lease with Walker’s roommate, Andrew, and wasn’t aware there would be other occupants, he said.

“It’s only a one-bedroom apartment,” Stinson said. His office is getting bombarded with questions, he said, and he believed his company was being misrepresented in the media.

“There are a lot of facts out there that aren’t true,” Stinson said. “We’re still waiting on some reports from the fire department.”

Walker was able to get back into the apartment Thursday afternoon and posted a video showing heavy damage to the apartment’s living room and kitchen, but almost no damage to the front bedroom where her daughters were sleeping.

There is also a photo of the vent she left open the night of the fire so her daughters wouldn’t get too cold. The apartment was “extremely warm, so we had closed off the vents,” Walker said.

Now Walker and Andrew are struggling to replace what they lost. Both of them lost all of their clothing and many cherished items. Also, their dog, a 7-year-old Jack Russell terrier-Chihuahua mix named Molly, is missing. They are still hoping to find her, Walker said.

Walker is adding up the costs of replacing birth certificates, Social Security cards and things like her high school diploma. A special blanket her grandmother made her while she sat next to her can never be replaced, she said.

“She passed away four years ago,” Walker said.

Anyone who is willing to make monetary donations is asked to contact Jessica Bleich or Brenda Walker on Facebook.

jduffy@jg.net

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