Teen dies in house fire

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, February 8, 2014

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Tragedy struck a family, community and school in the early-morning hours Thursday when a house fire claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy.

Nightmare Morning

NIGHTMARE MORNING – An early morning fire Thursday at a home in Chico killed 14-year-old Chris Conn, an eighth grader at Chico Middle School, and destroyed the family’s home. Johnny Hothouse suffered severe burns attempting to rescue his stepson. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The body of Chris Conn, an eighth grader at Chico Middle School, was found in the ruins of the home hours after the fire was extinguished. Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson said Friday afternoon the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office had confirmed Conn’s identity.

Chris Conn

Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said the boy was believed to have been trapped inside a room after the house caught fire about 4 a.m. Firefighters from Chico, Decatur, Bridgeport, Lake Bridgeport and Alvord responded to the residence in the 200 block of County Road 1637 near Lake Bridgeport’s Wise County Park.

“When we got here, flames were already coming through the roof,” said Bridgeport Fire Chief Terry Long. “It’s a total loss.”

The boy’s stepfather, Johnny Hothouse, was originally taken by Wise County medics from the scene to Wise Regional Health System in Decatur but was later transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

“He suffered from second- and third-degree burns to his arms, neck and face and suffered from smoke inhalation as he was attempting to pull the boy through the window and out of the burning house,” said Wise County Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis.

TRAGIC ACCIDENT – A firefighter fights flames in the bitter cold. The fire was accidentally caused during the night by a space heater at the foot of the victim’s bed. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The boy’s mother, Kimberly Wrisner, and little brother, Diesel Hothouse, 2, were also transported from the scene to WRHS but were released before noon.

Beard said there were two space heaters in Conn’s room, one of which started the fire.

“The family lost everything,” he said.

Teams of firefighters spent hours taking turns encircling the burning manufactured home, attempting to control and contain the fire as flames and smoke filled the sky and snow accumulated on the frozen ground. Firefighters were working in less than 20-degree temperatures.

Across the street a neighbor stood, stunned, watching as firefighters worked.

“My son rode the bus with him every day to school,” he said, a tear frozen on his cheek in the dark, frigid morning. “He was a quiet kid.”

Counselors were on hand at Chico Middle School Thursday to talk to fellow students. Staff at the school also said he was quiet but always friendly.

“Chris was a quiet kid; he was kind of a loner. He kept to himself,” said Middle School secretary Kathy Van Hoose. “But he would always speak. He would always say, ‘What’s up?,’ every time he saw you, no matter how many times he passed you in the hallway.”

Conn is the second CMS eighth grader to die in less than three months. The class is made up of only 45 students.

On Sunday, Nov. 24, 14-year-old Dennis Caraway died suddenly from a brain tumor. The school was still grieving his death and preparing to hold a pair of fundraisers for the Caraway family this weekend when Conn died.

The Hothouse family lost not only a son, but almost everything they owned in the fire. They had no insurance. The Red Cross was contacted and will offer temporary assistance.

Conn’s funeral is pending at Jones Family Funeral Home in Bridgeport.

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