Sussex County Delaware

Fire Kills 11 in
Oak Orchard

Sussex County Council ...

Seven Children Perish
in Early Morning Fire

OAK ORCHARD -- Investigators have determined that a Wednesday morning fire that killed 11 people in an Oak Orchard ranch home started in the kitchen when an occupant left a pot of oil on a stove.

Investigators made the announcement at a news conference Thursday, Jan. 4, 2001, in which they also revealed the identities of all of the victims.

Investigators added that two smoke detectors in the home did not have batteries.

Officials believe an occupant in the house turned the electric stove on to cook french fries in the wee hours of Wednesday morning and fell asleep. They said sliced potatoes were nearby along with a basket for frying the potatoes.

Officials said the fire spread from the stove to the cabinets, counter tops and walls and filled the home with heavy smoke that killed the four adults and seven children.

The state medical examiner has ruled that all 11 died from smoke inhalation.

Killed in the fire were:

  • Evelyn Shelton, 83
  • Shelton's daughter, Elta Mae Street, 50
  • Street's daughters, Jody Shelton, 31, and Jacqueline Wright, 26
  • Wright's children, Jeremy Wright, 9, Latasha Odums, 6, Terrence Odums, 5, Berlinda Ferdinand, 23 months, and Bertony Ferdinand, 11 months
  • Jody Shelton's daughter Lashanda, 7, and her son Christopher, 5.

The Nanticoke Indian Center and clergy from the Oak Orchard area have opened a community counseling center in the wake of the Wednesday morning fire that left 11 people, including 7 children, dead in the community.

The facility will be open from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2001. The Nanticoke Indian Center is located 8 miles east of Millsboro on Route 24.

Pastors from Harmony United Methodist Church and Indian Mission United Methodist Church, along with Red Cross disaster mental health volunteers and caseworkers, will be at the center.

The fire started shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2001, in the ranch home in a group of homes near Indian River Bay, according to fire fighters.

The flames were so small that they took fire fighters less than a minute to extinguish, but the smoke was billowing out of the home's eaves, according to eyewitnesses.

The fire, believed to be the worst in Delaware history in terms of the number of victims, has drawn national attention.

TV crews from national networks such as CNN, regional stations in Philadelphia and Baltimore, and the Associated Press had converged on the scene by Wednesday afternoon. ABC Radio was reporting details of the fire during the day.

Officials said they received a 911 call from inside the home at about 3 a.m. but even though they were on the scene just seven minutes later, they were unable to rescue the victims.

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