- Stephanie, 15 and Ben, 8
By Nicole Hegewald
On Saturday, October 17, 2009 at 10:30 a.m. in Devon, England, calls started flooding in about a house fire. It is unknown how the fire was started but it ended in tragedy. Michael and Gill Wojak along with their twenty year old son, Ricky, escaped the blaze. Fifteen-year old Stephani and her eight year old foster brother Ben McAuliffe weren’t so lucky. Police say if it wasn’t for the quick actions of their neighbors the whole family would have been lost.
“The fire service received seven calls just after 10:30 a.m. and the fire started on the ground-floor front-facing room and took hold very quickly which is what prevented the escape,” said Fire Inspector Glen Mayhew. “There were great heroics by the neighbors who tried to effect a rescue.”
More than 20 firefighters were at the scene
Michael and Gill had been fostering Ben since he was six months old. Neighbors described him as a “happy little soul” saying he would wave to them from his upstairs window. Ben was diagnosed with autism and had other learning disabilities.
Ben attended Combe Pafford, and Stephani attended Westlands School. The headmaster’s paid tribute to both students and made counselors available to help their fellow classmates and friends. The entire community is devastated.
Devon and Cornwall Police said yesterday that the children died after suffering a suspected cardiac arrest as a result of smoke inhalation. More than 20 firefighters were at the scene and eight wore sets of breathing gear to battle inside the house to find Stephani and Ben.
“We have lost two beautiful, loving children and it has just hit us watching other parents taking their kids to school that a normal Monday morning will never happen again,” said Michael and Gill.