Sunday, February 16, 2003

Delhi Twp. house fire kills man

Mother escapes; neighbors unable to help

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DELHI TOWNSHIP - A frantic mother rushed through her neighborhood early Saturday - pounding on windows and doors - because her youngest son was inside a burning home, trapped by flames and his crippling disease.

Jake Burdick, 28, who spent most of the last year in a wheelchair, was found curled in a fetal position close to his bedroom door when township firefighters discovered his body.

Neighbors think he died while crawling away from his bed. His muscular dystrophy had worsened so much that his muscles often shook as though he had epilepsy. His ability to speak was gone, too.

His mother, Sherry, pounded on neighbors' doors near 5474 Lariat Drive about 12:20 a.m.The Three Rivers Middle School special education teacher was covered in soot and screaming that she needed help getting her son out of her two-story home.

"I know she's devastated. But he's not going to suffer anymore," said Gordana Heugel, whose 16-year-old son, Brandon, called 911 after Burdick pounded on their door.

Firefighters are investigating why flames broke out in Jake Burdick's lower-level room, but they say the cause was not suspicious. While they have ruled out electrical problems, Jake Burdick was a smoker and perhaps a candle was lit in his room, said Phil Klug, the township fire department's fire and life safety director.

But even a healthy man could not have survived the fierce flames that quickly engulfed the brick home and blasted toward the roof. Fire damage totaled about $80,000, according to Klug. The Burdicks' calico cat, Cali, also perished.

"There was so much fire that nobody could have survived that. It was just one of those unfortunate things," Klug said.

Sherry Burdick was treated at University Hospital for smoke inhalation and released. Neighbors said she is probably with relatives, who include two other sons.

She told firefighters that she last saw Jake about 10 p.m., when she retired to her room to watch TV. She had dozed off when she awoke to find the home in flames.

She was unable to reach her son and escaped out a back door.

Robert Shields and other neighbors broke through the front door, which was right by Jake Burdick's bedroom door, and then reared back because of a wall of "solid smoke."

Upon arrival, firefighters did a quick search of the home but couldn't find Jake Burdick's body. It wasn't discovered until they managed a second search of the home hours later.

Cus Burdick, a Cincinnati firefighter who lost his brother in the fire, walked through the house on Saturday. The carpets were wet. The walls were charred. The smell of smoke was omnipresent. Shields was by his side.

The firefighter assured his old neighbor that "there's nothing you could have done."

The words of condolence failed to cut Shields' grief. He saw Jake Burdick grow up a normal, healthy boy who loved playing baseball and soccer, traveled frequently with his mother and continued to work after he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy about 10 years ago.

"It's hard, but that's the way God moves," he said.

Sherry Burdick could not be reached for comment, but her neighbors said her upbeat nature would get her through the upcoming weeks. She will always have memories of her big-hearted son who was adored by everyone in the neighborhood.

"God knows we'll be there for her," Heugel said.


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