Toddler dies in house fire: 'We did our best' to save him

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Neighbors and relatives who live nearby say they did everything possible to save a toddler who died Wednesday night in a house fire.

These heroes say they just couldn't find the child in the dark smoke, when the house in Oildale went up in flames. Aiden McDonald, 21 months old, was found later in a back bedroom.

On Thursday, a Kern County Fire Department spokesman told Eyewitness News the fire started in the room where the baby's body was found. The fire started just after 6:30 p.m. in the house in the 300 block of Washington Avenue.

"We did everything in our power as a family, neighbors, people we don't even know, trying to run up in this house to save that kid," Tanya Dotson said Thursday. "We would have saved him, but we didn't know where he was."

Dotson lives across the street, and she's a cousin to the family. Relatives say an aunt was in the house when the blaze started, along with the mother and four children in all. Several relatives in the area had spotted smoke pouring out the windows and doors.

Dotson said they didn't hesitate to run into the hot, smoky and burning building.

"You don't think," she said. "A lot of the people that were there weren't thinking about ourselves."

On Thursday morning, loved ones had a car wash going at Roberts Lane and Olive Drive. They aimed to raise money for the child's funeral and also burial costs of a their grandmother, who died earlier in the week.

Kern County Fire officials say they got several reports about the fire, and crews found heavy smoke and fire coming from the front and east side of the house. They immediately started to fight the fire and to look for the child reported to be trapped inside.

Dotson said the volunteer searchers had quickly faced dangerous conditions.

"It was hot and dark, and so smoky, like black," she said. "Smoke was just everywhere."

The relatives got the three kids outside but said the mother kept going back in to find Aiden. She kept that up until the fire crews arrived.

"By the time they got there and told us all to get back and let them do their job, we had to drag their mother out of there, 'cause she wasn't going to go," Dotson said.

Relatives said the mother ended up in the hospital for while, because she got smoke in her lungs.

Fire officials said they hope to release information on the cause of the fire by early next week. They also need the report from the Kern County coroner's office after an autopsy is done on the victim.

KCFD officials said fire crews on the scene did not hear smoke detectors going off and did not see a working smoke detector in the house that burned. Firefighters were back at the house Thursday to check for safety and look for hot spots.

Bakersfield Fire Department officials put out reminders on fire safety at home.

"One of the best ways to protect your family is with a working smoke detector," it advises. The bulletin also urges monthly checks of smoke detectors and replacing the battery twice a year.

"Make sure every member of your family has at least two escape routes from their bedroom in the event of a fire," officials say. The bulletin says families should be sure any windows with security bars have emergency release devices.

And if there is a fire, you should escort children and the elderly to safety, stay low to the ground below the smoke, and never open doors that are hot. Their most important warning if there a fire: "Get out, stay out, call 911."

Relatives say Aiden's family will need a lot of support.

"They've lost everything," Tanya Dotson said.

The other children are ages 6, 5 and 3, and Dotson said they are OK physically.

"But, they're wondering where their brother is," she said. "I had to answer some questions I don't know how to answer."

Both parents told Eyewitness News they were too upset to make any comment, yet. Asked about Aiden, Dotson said he's a regular little kid.

"He liked cars and toys," she said. "He was a love, a happy kid, quiet."

They just could not find him in the burning house.

"We did our best," Dotson said, with tears. "And if it would have been possible to get him, we would have had him out of there."