Reflections on the tragic fire at The Boulders in ProvoWhen Boulders resident Brianne Thomas first saw the smoke, she joked to roommate Patric Bates that he must have left the stove on. As they pulled into the parking lot in front of their unit, however, Thomas and Bates saw that the situation was no laughing matter at all.
“We had no idea,” Bates said. “When we pulled in, shortly after nine, there were flames licking the side of the building.”
The Boulders apartment complex in southwest Provo saw its second fatal fire in less than three years on Monday, March 14. 45-year old Yvette Kimber, who initiated the blaze, had fought with her boyfriend and was attempting to commit suicide. She first ingested a combination of prescription medication, marijuana and alcohol. Kimber then lit a cigarette as she passed out, hoping that it would ignite a fire and kill her while she was unconscious.
When that method proved ineffective, Kimber lit a fringed pillow on fire and went back to sleep; however, upon feeling the heat of the fire, Kimber woke up, became frightened and alerted authorities. Kimber made no attempt to quell the fire herself. “You can still see the fire extinguishers in their mounts,” Bates said.
Upon seeing the fire, Bates and Thomas, who live across from the buildings that were on fire, jumped from their car and ran over to the scene.
“We heard people screaming that there were disabled people on the second floor,” Bates said.
Bates, an eight-year Army veteran, began trying to get able-bodied bystanders to assist him in removing the two residents from the danger.
“We helped the first lady get down. She just kind of fell,” he said.
The second resident, however, is physically disabled and was reluctant to jump from her window, despite Bates and Thomas’ coaxing.
“She just kept screaming ‘I want to get my cats out’,” Thomas said. “The flames were moving so fast. I was arguing with her to the point of practically screaming obscenities”
“You could see the flames engulfing the back of her apartment. We both thought she was going to die,” Bates said. “She would not jump”
Bates continued seeking assistance from the bystanders.
“I was trying to get as many guys as I could to do that thing where we grab each other’s wrist, to make a quad, so she could jump and we could catch her,” he said.
Meanwhile, Thomas says, many residents were busy taking pictures and taking video with their phones.
“There was a third guy, we don’t know who he was, but he was the only other one that was helping,” Thomas said. “I was seriously pissed off. We needed more people to get these women out.”
Ten minutes had gone by and authorities had still not arrived at the scene.
“I was screaming, ‘Did anyone call 911?’,” Bates said. “And everyone was just standing there with their jaws agape.”
He began attempting to kick out a window on the ground floor. His plan was to use the open window as a leverage point, get up to the second story and help the woman down.
Meanwhile, Thomas was on the phone, trying to alert the authorities.
“I don’t remember what Patric was doing, but I was on the phone. I had my back turned to the apartments and as soon as I turned around, I saw her go head first out the window,” Thomas said. “I about lost it”
The woman, identified by neighbors as “Janette,” landed on her back and sustained a fractured pelvis and inhalation burns.
At that point, firefighters arrived on the scene and ordered Bates and Thomas to the other side of the parking lot.
Unbeknownst to Bates and Thomas, two other women – Karen Murray and Catherine Crane, were also trapped in their apartments. Unfortunately, they did not make it out alive.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE?
“On the one hand, we knew we did everything that we could,” said Bates. “But you go over questions in your mind. You wonder how much time was wasted; what could we have done differently?”
The Boulders saw another fire in January of 2009, this one across the parking lot from this most recent inferno. Dozens of tenants were displaced and one woman – 55-year-old Karen Jorgenson – was killed. Management saw to it that sprinklers were installed into the rebuilt units. Such precautionary measures were not, however, taken in the older buildings.
Bates pointed at a sprinkler affixed to the ceiling in his apartment and said, “I think if they did have sprinkler systems then perhaps the fire could have been diffused a little bit and would not have been so quick to start and spread. It boggles my mind that they didn’t care to put them in any other apartments after somebody had died in the 2009 fire.”
Management at The Boulders could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile Kimber, who was originally held on manslaughter, is now being charged with two counts of murder and one count of arson, all of which carry the possibility of life in prison.
“The management told us that they brought a dog and tested the area and there was fuel all over her house and up the stairs, all over the balcony and in front of people’s doors,” said Whitney Huber, a neighbor who witnessed the fire.
Huber had spoken with Kimber on occasion and got the impression that she was mentally unstable. “She talked a lot of nonsense stuff. You couldn’t keep up with what she was saying,” Huber said.
According to Thomas, Kimber was on scene outside the burning building, sobbing with her head in a neighbor’s lap.
“She was crying over and over again ‘I didn’t mean to kill no one.’ ”
The Boulders reputation in town has not always been positive, and citizens of Provo might avoid renting in that complex in light of the recent events. In fact, Thomas reported that eyewitness conclusions initially pointed to use or manufacture of methamphetamines as the cause of the fire.
“Those stereotypes come from the fact that this is a low-income housing facility,” said Bates. “But, the fact of the matter is, as far as this apartment complex goes, we know all the neighbors around us, especially now. As far as my experience here, it’s been nice.”
A candlelight vigil was held days after the fire to commemorate Crane and Murray. Residents at The Boulders are now trying to move on with their lives, in spite of the traumatizing things they have seen.
“I was in so much shock that it didn’t even bother me to watch them pull the bodies out,” said Thomas. “But the next day after realizing everything, the fact that two people died in front of me while I was just standing there and couldn’t help, it hit me so hard. It was bad.”