Melba Mecham, 74, and her husband Gary Mecham, 77, died from smoke inhalation after attempting to put out the fire in their home at 2255 South Sorrento Drive.
“There were working fire/smoke alarms that alerted neighbors,” said South Davis Metro Fire Chief Jeff Bassett. “They told us they heard those and went over. They did the right thing though and felt the doors before barging in or we could have had more injuries. They felt them with the back of their hands, which is the proper way to do it. Both the front and back doors were hot so they started calling 911 and told us they believed the occupants were inside.”
When crews arrived about 10:30 p.m. they could see fire and smoke. Firefighters immediately conducted a search of the home and encountered heavy smoke inside. They were able to locate the Mechams and evacuate them through a back door to waiting medical personnel. Both were transported to Lakeview Hospital where all efforts were made to revive them but they were unsuccessful and the couple passed away.
“You can get disoriented by smoke,” said Bassett. “It is very toxic. Breathing in smoke is what kills people most often, not the fire. It’s best to get low to the ground and crawl out. Stay on the phone with 911 to tell them where you are. This information is relayed live and up to date to us. It helps when we arrive. We consider every house occupied and search it that way, but it helps if people tell us where they are.”
The Mecham’s neighbor, Karen Gay Davis, was shocked to find out the Mechams had died. “I’ve lived by them for 43 years,” she said. “They’re wonderful neighbors. I’m so sorry it happened to them. It’s hard to comprehend. I look out at their house and it doesn’t seem possible.”
Davis said while she was anxiously watching the fire trucks and ambulance the Mecham’s dog jumped up on her front step. “I thought ‘they’re going to be OK if the dog got out,’” she said. “I wasn’t expecting them to die. I feel bad for the kids and grandkids. It’s hard to lose both parents. What a tragedy for the family.”
Bassett said they’re always stressing Christmas tree safety during the holidays. “In this case it was an artificial tree and malfunctioning lights started the plastic on fire,” he said. “We recommend that people look at any electrical equipment around their tree and make sure the right lights are on it. Don’t put outdoor lights on an indoor tree.”
He also encourages residents to check their artificial tree for debris or spider webs after it’s been in storage for a year. “Look at the tree to make sure there is nothing flammable on it,” he said. “Check the lights to see if they are snapped, pinched or brittle. If they are, take them off and put new ones on.”
It is also critical to have a fire exit plan, he said. “It’s important to work on this whether you’re single or have a family. Practice it and know what you would do and how to get out safely.”
Attempting to put out the fire if it’s small is OK, Bassett said, but always call 911 first. “Don’t get too involved in putting out the fire. The most important thing is saving lives – get out of the house.”