Boy suffers severe burns in house fire

Community reaches out to stricken family
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A Gillett family was displaced and a 12-year-old boy hospitalized with critical burns after a house fire Saturday night. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

The Gillett community was rallying around a family who was displaced and a 12-year-old boy hospitalized with critical burns after a house fire Saturday night.

Authorities were called to 310 Pulcifer Ave. in Gillett at 10:51 p.m. Saturday for a report of a structure fire, according to a press release Tuesday from Gillett Fire Chief Kurt Hicks and Police Chief Jess Keplinger.

“Three individuals were inside the house at the time of the incident, and there was one reported injury,” the release said. The injured boy was taken from the scene by the Eagle III rescue helicopter. People familiar with the situation said he was in critical but stable condition at a hospital burn center as of Monday.

“The fire is currently under investigation by Gillett Police, Gillett City Fire and Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation’s State Fire Marshal’s Office,” the statement said. “No further details can be released at this time as the investigation is ongoing and for the privacy of the family displaced during the incident.”

The home was rendered uninhabitable by the blaze. The crews from several area fire departments got the fire extinguished and were released from the scene around 3 a.m. Sunday.

The family – identified on social media only as the Santos family – lost all of their belongings, escaping with only the clothes they were wearing. The American Red Cross was at the scene Saturday night helping the family, and a number of community volunteers also began to step forward as word of the fire spread.

Jake Steldt, a member of the city’s Tourism and Marketing Committee who administers the Gillett Community and Events page on Facebook, set up a GoFundMe page to support the Santos family and had raised more than a quarter of a $2,000 goal by Tuesday morning. Gillett Elementary School teacher Vicky Britton was collecting clothing donations, urging drop-offs at the school or City Hall.

“We figured we have a reach (through the Facebook page) that would get the word out to about 2,000 people, but I never expected that we would get this kind of response,” Steldt said Monday. “So many people have been helping out.”

Thousands of items were donated within 24 hours of the original post, he said — much of it brand-new with the tags still attached. Gas cards were donated so the family wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of driving to the hospital to visit the boy.

“I think I have three carloads of clothing, and I know they spent four hours at the school sorting clothes (Sunday) night,” Steldt said. “I’ve had furniture dropped off at my house, and I keep getting messages from more people who want to help.”

Businesses have been contacting Steldt and Mayor James Beaton about organizing a fundraiser to support the family sometime in the next few weeks, he said.

“This is just overwhelming, and it shows how much this community cares,” Steldt said. “I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had to start over from scratch, so I sort of understand what they’re going through, but I can’t imagine having to worry about a child on top of that.”

Other agencies that helped combat the fire included the Oconto County Sheriff’s Office and the Oconto Falls Police Department, the news release said.

To donate to the family, visit www.gofundme.com/5s4kdow, and for more information, visit the Gillett Community and Events or James Beaton, Gillett Mayor pages on Facebook. Updates to this story will also be posted to octimesherald.com and the Times Herald’s Facebook page.