MEDFORD, Ore.– Two days after a fire devastated an apartment complex leaving children in the hospital and a total of six families displaced, one of the families that were trapped by Friday’s fire is just now finding a chance to breathe.
From getting their children out alive to now having to rebuild their lives, the Smith family says they’re taking it not just day by day but hour by hour.
“Everyone else said that there was an explosion, so I think maybe coupled with whatever I was dreaming about and that, I woke up but I didn’t necessarily register that as something that happened,” said Kiraush Smith.
It was a stroke of luck but as Smith described it, waking up on that Friday morning everything was fairly normal. He said he looked at his phone, saw if his wife had messaged and then got up to go to the bathroom. It was only when he opened the door to his hallway and smoke flew into his face that he knew something was wrong.
Slamming the door and running to the bedroom window, Smith said he then saw a firefighter on the street and began yelling to get his attention.
“I grabbed my two-year-old and I threw him, dropped him down to the firefighter and kept telling him, ‘One more! One more!'” said Smith. “I ran over and grabbed my nine-month-old and dropped him down to the same firefighter.”
His roommate Trish Elsworth and her two daughters were roommates of the Smiths and also in the building at the time of the fire. Together they shared an apartment on the second floor right next door to an apartment fire investigators believe the fire originated.
That apartment belonged to Tonya Kaylee Johnson, who firefighters originally believed to be missing once the fire broke out. Later it was discovered that Johnson had been struck by a vehicle several hours before the fire started as she was trying to cross South Pacific Highway at Lowery Lane. She is currently still in the hospital and fire investigators are looking at any potential connection between Johnson and the fire.
Meanwhile, as the fire continued to burn, Smith said after he got his kids out he was about to stop and see if Elsworth and her children got out too.
“I wasn’t sure if her or her daughters were out. Then I heard [Elsworth] yelling outside and so I assumed they were all out and fine,” he said.
It wasn’t till after he had jumped from the roof, slightly injuring his legs during the fall, that Smith realized Elsworth’s daughters were still trapped in the flames. Firefighters were able to get both Elsworth’s five-year-old and three-year-old out of the building but the five-year-old was flown to Portland for treatment of severe burns.
According to Aaron Dolph, Elsworth’s brother, the five-year-old will be undergoing surgery on Monday to try and save her leg which was severely injured and isn’t receiving blood flow. He said the burns cover nearly her entire body, about 75 percent, and while she has been sedated Elsworth’s oldest daughter will have to stay in Portland for several months.
Currently, Elsworth is up there right now with Bailee Smith, Kiraush’s wife, while her three-year-old stays with her grandparents for the time being.
Smith is also staying with his mother, Pamela Keever, who happened to move into a new apartment several weeks earlier. She’s calling it perfect timing and is doing everything she can, even squeezing seven people into a two bedroom apartment.
“There’s no other place to be other than grateful when you’re grandbabies are okay and your kids okay too,” said Keever.
Luckily, Smith says his kids are doing fine now and he’s gone back to work. He actually went back to work the very next day describing how he didn’t want to intrude on his friend who was taking vacation time. His boss even told him to take the time he needed but Smith said he would still cover for his friend’s time off.
Smith continued he’s just grateful both his kids are all right. But one thing still weighs heavy on him. The severity of Elsworth’s daughter’s burns makes him question the decisions he made on that night. For a man that saved his two kids, Smith wishes he could have done more.
“Everyone keeps telling me I couldn’t, that the fire was already in the hallway at that point and whatever,” he said. “But I didn’t try and I assumed. I rolled those dice and they didn’t play in my favor.”
Several GoFundMe’s and Facebook fundraisers have been started to help the families get back on their feet and pay for medical expenses. If you would like to donate, links to each can be found below.
GoFundMe for the Elsworth family and medical expenses, link is here.
Facebook fundraiser for Smith family, link is here.
NBC5 News Reporter Miles Furuichi graduated from Chapman University with degrees in English and Journalism. He received post graduate experience in Los Angeles in photojournalism and commercial photography. He also spent time in Dublin, Ireland working in print journalism and advertising.
Miles is a Rogue Valley native, raised in Ashland. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking and photography.