Neighbors helpless as kids screamed for help in fatal fire
The fire started in the attic above the bedroom where three little boys slept. Within moments, it had consumed everything in its path, leaving two children dead and a third on life support, devastating their family and reducing a Webster apartment building to rubble.
The victims' next-door neighbor Brandon Moore said he could only watch helplessly as the trapped children screamed for help.
"We heard the little kids screaming up there, but there was no way to get to them," Moore said. "Nothing you could do. It was tough."
The young victims' mother, Dana Lynn Woodel Novak, 31, crawled through thick smoke and was pulled outside to safety by her two adult brothers after the fire erupted at 4:40 a.m. Thursday. But Novak tried to run back inside to save her children as they screamed for help.
Twice, after Novak was overcome by smoke and lost consciousness, her brother performed CPR on her, said her stepfather, Greg Wilson of Alvin.
Despite her efforts, the worst had already happened. Webster firefighters found two of her children, 12-year-old Kaitlyn Marie Novak and Christian Thomas Novak, 8, dead inside their townhome at the Skylar Pointe Apartment Homes at 1210 El Camino Village near Nasa Road 1.
Their brother,Nathaniel Novak, 5, was on life support late Thursday at Memorial Hermann Children's Hospital, where his mother and other family members had gathered at his side.
Dana Novak, who had been asleep in the upstairs portion of the townhome with her children, managed to escape with her youngest child, Nicholas Novak, 4, when the fire erupted, but she is stunned and reeling from the loss, family members said.
Her two brothers, sleeping downstairs on couches, "tried their best to get the children and Dana out," Wilson said. "They did everything they could. Nicholas got out on his own — that's just the way he is."
The mother, who is going through a divorce, settled into the Webster apartment several months ago after moving there with her four children from the Brazoria County town of Liverpool.
"I'm 53 years old, and it's the worst thing I've ever seen," said Wilson, the children's grandfather. "I can't put it into words … It's terrible.
"The fire appeared to originate in the attic upstairs above the boys' room," he said.
Webster Fire Chief Patrick Shipp confirmed the fire appears to have started in the attic, according to a preliminary investigation, and said the cause remained unknown later Thursday.
There appears to be nothing suspicious about the blaze, he said.
Firefighters found one child dead in a hallway, Shipp said, and the other's body in a bedroom. A working smoke detector was installed in the apartment, he said.
Moore, the next-door neighbor, said he and his family were asleep when the fire raced through the building. After banging noises woke them up and they made it outside unharmed, he could hear the frantic voices of Novak's children.
"We didn't know it was as bad as it was until we got outside," Moore said.
Dana Novak suffered minor damage to her lungs and minor burns to her legs and arms, and was treated and released from Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, her stepfather said.
Nicholas, the youngest boy, was not injured.
Kaitlyn Novak, whose bedroom was across the hallway from her brothers' room, was a sixth-grader at Space Center Intermediate School, while Christian Novak was a second-grader at Armand Bayou Elementary School.
On her MySpace page, their mother wrote, "I am just waiting to see what the future holds for me and my children." She also recently posted a blog titled, "I am so proud of my daughter."
Because Christian Novak's body has not yet been officially identified at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, the family has been unable to make funeral arrangements, Wilson said.
"It's just tragic," said neighbor Jason Jones. "I see the kids outside all the time, doing their thing, playing around. And the next day they're gone."
The Angleton attorney representing Dana Novak in her divorce described his client as a very loving mother.
"She is heartbroken and shocked. She's devastated," attorney Steven Crenshaw said after speaking with her later Thursday.
Three families burned out
Clear Creek Independent School District officials mobilized counselor response teams at the children's two campuses Thursday to help grieving students, said spokeswoman Elaina Polsen.
The school district's at-risk team is also reaching out to the Novak family and other Clear Creek ISD students who lost their homes in the fire, she said, and will make sure they are provided clothing and food.
The other two families living in separate units of the burned building lost virtually all of their possessions.
Moore said his family lost everything and will now be starting over. Jill Kasselman, 61, and her son, Lee Kasselman, 32, escaped their townhome with their dog, a TV and a laptop computer, family members said. Jill Kasselman had only the robe and nightgown she was wearing, said her daughter, Kelly Kasselman of Friendswood.
"It takes something like this to open your eyes," said Kelly Kasselman. "Now I'm going home and making sure my (smoke detector) batteries are current."//<![CDATA[ MCP_PLUCK=0 //]]>
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