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Grandmother, three children killed in Calhoun fire

By Candace Nelson

CHLOE -- A 57-year-old grandmother and three grandchildren died in a mobile home fire early Thursday in Calhoun County.

The victims were identified Friday as 57-year-old Darlene Gooslin, 7-year-old Ryan Jackson, 6-year-old Patricia Jackson and 5-year-old Aryanne Jackson.

Big Otter Elementary School Principal Anthony Boggs said the victims were among his students. The youngest attended preschool at the Clay County school. Grief counselors were on hand there Friday.

Two men, identified on the scene as the father and the uncle of the three children, suffered burns and were taken to the burn unit at Cabell-Huntington Hospital. One man was burned on 45 percent of his body.

The fire was reported around 5 a.m. on Mud Fork Road in the Chloe area. The home was engulfed in flames when the first responder arrived.

"I only live a mile down the road, and my dad and I went to help," Kim Berly said.

Berly, a firefighter with the Upper West Fork Volunteer Fire Department, worked to extinguish the fire. When other firefighters arrived, she assisted the men who had been burned.

"We're a tight-knit community. They were quiet and off by themselves but would always stop to talk to my children," Berly said. "It really is a tragic loss."

"When I heard this morning, I could have cried," said Rhonda Tanner, who keeps cows in a pasture near the family's home.

Tanner said she saw the children often and described them as "absolutely adorable ... very pretty little kids.

"They were cute as buttons. They'd holler out, 'What you doing over there?' " Tanner said. "They didn't have much room to play, but they seemed happy."

Tanner said the grandmother stayed at home to care for the children full time. About a year ago, a camper parked next to the home also was destroyed in a fire, said Tanner, whose daughter is a local volunteer firefighter.

Lois Cummings, a neighbor who lives about a quarter-mile away, said she didn't know the family well either but called the grandmother "a sweet, sweet lady."

"And the grandkids were awesome," she said. "They were great neighbors. It's a sad situation whenever a whole family gets killed like that."

Family friend Verla Longfellow said the three children were smart, well-mannered and obedient.Mark Lambert, assistant state fire marshal, said there was no sign of smoke detectors in the home, and he noted that has been the case with several recent fires.

"We do tend to see more fires in the winter -- often heat-related," Lambert said. He encouraged others to invest in smoke detectors for their homes.

The lack of smoke detectors in recent fatal fires has prompted local officials to address the issue.

"Smoke detectors are a big problem around here," Jason Baltic, an investigator for the Fire Marshal's Office, said earlier. "I don't know why people don't put them in their houses. They're maybe $10. It doesn't make any sense.

"Everybody thinks that it won't happen to me, but at any time anything can happen to anybody. The majority of fire fatalities are accidental fires, and a lot of them are children."

Deputy State Fire Marshal Carol Nolte said the office is often asked what types of smoke detectors are best. Although they do not endorse any particular brands, they recommend combination smoke alarms that sense photoelectric (slower fires) and ionization (faster, flaming fires).

"Back in the '70s, the ionization technology was what consumers had access to, but as with any other technology, designs and functions are continually improving," Nolte said. "We do recommend that folks put a smoke detector on every level of the home, in hallways adjacent to bedrooms, and even inside bedrooms.

"It's a code requirement that all property owners of residential properties (one- and two-family dwellings) must provide and install working smoke alarms."

The fire is under investigation but the destruction was so complete that fire marshals say they may never determine the cause.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact writer Candace Nelson at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at


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