Wednesday, August 2

Cameron evacuee dies in FEMA trailer fire


CARLYSS — A fire engulfed a FEMA trailer early this morning, claiming the life of a Cameron Parish evacuee who lost her brick home during Hurricane Rita.

The victim had previously gone to the news media with concerns about the trailer’s safety. The fire’s cause is unknown.

Zeb Johnson of the Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office identified the victim as Ellen Schools, 51.
Carlyss Fire Chief Jude Savoie said firefighters were called to the scene at 2:13 a.m. The FEMA trailer is on a lot in the Hidden Ponds mobile-home park on Ravia Road south of Sulphur.

The fire was “heavily involved” when firefighters arrived, the chief said.

Schools had been living in the FEMA trailer since April, according to Jimmy LeJeune, who lives across the street.

LeJeune’s daughter-in-law, Paula LeJeune, said Schools had just started a new job. Her first day was Tuesday.
Jimmy LeJeune said he last talked to Schools at 11 p.m. Tuesday, when he called to tell her good night. Early Wednesday morning, he looked outside after hearing a noise and realized her mobile home was on fire.

“Flames were coming out of her living room,” Paula LeJeune said. “My husband tried to go in and get her, but the cop wouldn’t let him.”

At that time, a Calcasieu Parish sheriff’s deputy was at the scene.

“The cop knocked on the outside of the trailer and we heard a thud back,” LeJeune said.

Another neighbor, Mike Ravia, was alerted to the fire by a California man who had been staying in the RV park to the west.

“He was banging on doors to get everyone out. He couldn’t call 911 because his cell phone would have called 911 in California,” Ravia said.

The fire’s heat melted siding on his mobile home. He said he wanted to try to rescue Schools, but the roof over the kitchen/living area collapsed and the fire spread.

Schools had expressed problems with the FEMA trailer in the past. In May, she spoke to Theresa Schmidt, a reporter for KPLC-TV, about exposure to formaldehyde in the two-bedroom mobile home. She said the exposure was causing headaches, a sore throat and sinus problems.

According to the KPLC report, Schools said FEMA suggested that she open her windows to alleviate the problem.

Jimmy LeJeune said Schools had other problems with the trailer. He said the circuit breakers kept switching off and that he once witnessed smoke coming from the stove.

A FEMA official had no comment about whether Schools had reported problems in the past. He did say, however, that a FEMA safety group is investigating the fire.

The state fire marshal’s office is also investigating. Spokesman Marc Reech said investigators have not yet determined the cause or origin of the fire.

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