DEL CITY — Stephanie Dunham had no idea Tuesday what the fate of her children would be when she was taken from the fire that engulfed a motorhome in which her family had been staying.
In a frantic 911 call, Dunham tells a dispatcher the RV is “burning mad” and her three small children are inside. In almost the same breath, she's yelling out for anyone to help her.
“Oh my God, I hope they're alive,” Dunham screams over and over, until she's panting.
“I can't get my kids out. I can't get them out.”
Del City fire Maj. Brandon Pursell said when firefighters arrived, Dunham was in the yard and then whisked away in an ambulance so she could be treated for burns to her arms and neck. She was heavily sedated at the hospital, and it would be hours before family members would be able to tell her the children didn't survive.
Christopher L. Dunham Jr., 4, Crystal A. Dunham, 3, and Kailey A. Dunham, 1, died in the fire. Christopher's birthday would have been today.
The children's father, Christopher Dunham, was at work when the fire broke out, but he learned about his children's deaths at the fire scene.
Stephanie Dunham reported the fire at 3333 SE 16 about 11 a.m. There already was a heavy fire load inside the recreational vehicle when firefighters arrived about three minutes later, Pursell said.
“They tried to get a knock down of the flames and to rescue the children, but unfortunately they (the children) were overcome,” he said.
The RV was parked behind the modest frame home where the children's grandmother, Crystal Chappell, has lived since 1997.
Pursell said the family was staying in the RV while carpet was being laid and other work was being done in one of the bedrooms inside Chappell's home.
Investigators reported finishing their preliminary investigation Tuesday night.
The origin of the fire was in the front, passenger side of the motorhome, officials said. There was a space heater in the area that was serviced by an electrical cord from the home. The motorhome was not operational.
Investigators hope to gather more information when they are able to visit with the mother.
Only a few hours after the fire, friends and church members were rallying to help the young couple.
Christopher Dunham is a tow-truck driver for American Eagle Towing. His boss, Bryan Hull, said his company has established a memorial fund for the family to help with funeral and other expenses.
“His wife is in the hospital. He has the clothes on his back and his job; that's all he has,” Hull said. “And he has his car, but the keys were lost in the fire.”
Hull said Dunham has worked for the towing company for about a year and is a good employee who is dedicated to his children.
The family attended church services at Destiny Christian Center.
The Rev. Lawrence Neisent said church members are taking up a collection to help the family.
He said Christopher, Crystal and Kailey were vibrant, energetic children that melted hearts.
“It's a shame that their lives came to a conclusion so young,” Neisent said. “There is no answer for it. It's one of those unforeseeable circumstances that are never a part of God's plan.”
Neighbor Elizabeth McNally attends church with the family. She said Christopher Dunham Jr. always made it a point to brighten her day.
“We called each other sweetie,” McNally said. “He would run up to me and give me a hug whenever I saw him at church. They were all real sweet kids. It's just so sad. I'm praying for them.”
HOW TO HELP
The Dunham Family Memorial Fund has been established at Oklahoma Employees Credit Union to help the victims' family with expenses. An OECU spokesman said donations can be made at any of the branches in the Oklahoma City metro area. For more information or branch locations, call 606-6328 or (877) 648-6328.