Crying baby warned family of fire

Published 10:51 am Thursday, May 10, 2012

Khalette Meeks-Radke, 10 months, is being called a hero by her family after she began crying and alerted them to a fire in their home Wednesday. Her mother, Samantha Meeks, said she doesn't think the whole family would have gotten out safely if it weren't for Khalette. -- Sarah Stultz/ Albert Lea Tribune

EMMONS — An Emmons mother was calling her 10-month-old baby a hero Wednesday after the baby alerted the family to fire in the house.

Samantha Meeks said if it weren’t for her crying baby, Khalette Meeks-Radke, she and her family might not have made it outside alive during a blaze early that morning.

Samantha Meeks looks into the bedroom of a house on High Street in Emmons where a fire reportedly started early Wednesday morning. Meeks was in the room below in the basement when her baby began crying and they found the fire.

Fire investigators have declared their house, on the 200 block of High Street, a total loss. They don’t know the cause.

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Meeks said at about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday she and her boyfriend, Anthony Radke, were sound asleep in the basement of the rambler-style house when Khalette’s crying woke her.

Khalette — in her crib — was directly below the bedroom on fire, and ashes had begun to fall through the ceiling into the crib.

The parents then saw the blaze above and sprung out of bed, grabbed the baby and her 3-year-old daughter in another room and darted upstairs.

There, Anthony Radke scrambled down the hall to the room where his mother, Deb Radke, sleeps, with an oxygen tank in the room. The door was stuck shut.

Meeks said he busted the door down with his shoulder, and helped his mother outside. Two Chihuahuas and a puppy also survived.

Seconds later, her room exploded.

“I started crying,” Meeks said. “I just realized we don’t have insurance.”

Radke, who owns the home, was taken to a local hospital for smoke inhalation. Her condition is unknown.

“If we wouldn’t have been here, Deb would have burned to death,” Meeks said.

When Emmons firefighters arrived, flames were barreling out of the house. Meeks estimated it took about an hour to extinguish the blaze. The family suspects Deb fell asleep with a cigarette in her hand. The explosion possibly was the oxygen tank.

Fire investigator Doug Johnson said he is not ruling out a cigarette as the cause. He is also considering an equipment failure.

“At this point I have eliminated arson,” Johnson said.

He said there were smoke alarms with batteries in the house, but when he talked to the family, they said they didn’t remember them going off. He noted there was no way to test if they were operable because they were destroyed.

In a closet in the middle of the house, about a dozen oxygen tanks were unharmed by the fire. Much of the walls on the main level are blackened, and in the basement level there is at least three inches of water. Thick smoke still lingers.

On Wednesday afternoon, the family was busy sorting through any of their salvaged belongings.

Meeks said they plan to stay three nights at a local motel — thanks to the Freeborn County chapter of the American Red Cross.

After that, however, they don’t know where they will go.

She said a friend is talking about organizing a benefit for the family, since they have lost almost everything. Details for the benefit had not been set up as of Wednesday afternoon.