Bellevue residents lost two of their neighbors — a little boy and a woman with health problems — Saturday in a mobile home fire.
Authorities didn't name the victims, but friends identified them as Sandra “Sandy” L. Nielsen, who was in her 60s, and her grandson Devin Nielsen, who was about 7.
Luanne Saxer, a friend of Sandy Nielsen's, drove with her son to the Green Acres mobile home court near 29th Avenue and Hancock Street. The Nielsen home there was a burned-out hull, and yellow tape encircled it to keep people out.
“She's my best friend,” Saxer said of Nielsen. “Devin — he was the love of her life.”
Both were found dead inside the home. Bellevue Police Chief Mark Elbert said authorities were focusing on a space heater as the possible cause of the fire.
Saxer said she would visit Nielsen weekly to help her bathe and wash her hair. Saxer said her friend had a medical condition that caused fluid to build up in her legs, making it hard for her to walk.
In a nearby mobile home, Jami Escobedo-Reyes said her son, Jesse Belt, played frequently with Devin.
“They built a little fort in that area there,” she said of an open space beside the mobile home. “They played there all the time.”
Jesse, 8, said they would battle with foam swords and bury toys, then look for the “buried treasures.”
“I'm gonna miss playing with him,” Jesse said.
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said autopsies were to be done Saturday. Polikov said the bodies were badly burned and that dental records might be required to confirm identities.
Neighbors said five people lived in the mobile home at the time — Sandy; her son, David; and three children belonging to David.
The Bellevue Fire Department, which didn't name any of the five, said three were taken to the Bellevue Medical Center. They were treated there and released, the department said.
The three who survived are David Nielsen, the father; Aaron, a high school student; and a small girl, Haylee.
A man who lives across the street at Green Acres said he called 911 about 3 a.m. Saturday. A boy, most likely Aaron Nielsen, was in the street crying out for help, said the neighbor, Dale Peters. The home was on fire.
“I heard him yelling that his brother was still in the trailer,” Peters said.
Another neighbor, Lisa Sheldon, said firefighters “took chain saws in the back of the home to try to open it up.”
Sheldon wept. “It happened so fast.”
Another boy in the mobile home court, Clayton Dillon, 11, said he had snowball fights with Devin and tossed a football with Devin and Aaron. Clayton said he attends Betz Elementary School in Bellevue, as did Devin.
Clayton cried and his father, Jim Dillon, hugged him with tears in his eyes. “It's OK, bud,” the father said.
Saxer said she had known Sandy Nielsen for years. When Saxer returned to Bellevue late last year after a stint in Colorado, she was surprised that her friend's health had declined so severely.
Saxer cried. “They were all great,” she said of the Nielsens. “Every time I'd come over, I'd get a hug.”
“Oh, Sandy. Oh, God,” Saxer said. “What am I gonna do?”
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Space heater safety
A space heater is suspected in a Saturday fire that killed two people in Bellevue. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires each year are linked to the heaters. Here are some tips for their safe use:
» Keep the space heater at least 30 inches from curtains, bedding, furniture or other flammable materials.
» Place the heater on a level surface, away from areas where someone might bump into it and knock it over.
» Never leave a space heater unattended or running while you sleep.
» Supervise children and pets when a space heater is in use.
» Check that the heater has been tested and labeled by a nationally recognized testing company.
» Inspect the heater's cord periodically for frayed wire or damaged insulation. Do not use a space heater with a damaged cord.
» Leave a window or door partially open when operating in an enclosed space, to allow fresh air to enter. This will prevent carbon monoxide (CO) buildup or a depletion of oxygen.
» Avoid using extension cords. If you must use, make sure the extension cord is a heavy duty cord marked with a power rating at least as high as that on the label of the heater itself.
» Check periodically for a secure plug/outlet fit. If the plug becomes very hot, the outlet may need to be checked by a qualified technician. This could be the sign of a potential home wiring issue.
Source: Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Traveler's Insurance