Finding her two-story house ablaze with four of her children asleep upstairs, Kristina Stratton dashed inside, CNN reported.
The 38-year-old single mother of five had been out with one of her daughters when the fire broke out late Thursday night in her Bakersfield, California, home, the network reported.
The children, ranging in age from 7 to 18, escaped the blaze by jumping from a second-story window, KFSN reported. But firefighters found Stratton dead inside after the 11:45 p.m. fire.
“She loved God, loved her family, loved her kids, loved life and she loved being here in Bakersfield,” said Pastor Angelo Frazier of RiverLakes Community Church, a family friend, Bakersfield Now reported.
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The children suffered “minor to moderate” smoke inhalation, the Kern County Fire Department reported.
Stratton’s “three youngest children are now orphans,” CNN reported. Their father, Stratton’s husband, died of cancer four years ago.
“She’s a hard-working woman, she raised five kids, and she took care of those babies for a long time,” neighbor Gary Shrider said, KGET reported. He said he remembered the children playing football and basketball in their backyard.
Friends and family are going through the fire-damaged house looking for the family’s belongings, Frazier said, KFSN reported
“It is just unspeakable heartbreak to have to do something like that when you lose a loved one, so you can imagine the raw emotions that are there,” he said, according to the station.
Sarah Parks, Stratton’s sister, has taken her five children in and plans to add bedrooms to her home for them, according to a GoFundMe account set up for the family by Inspire Charter School.
“My sister just did what any mom would do, protecting her children,” Parks said, Bakersfield Now reported. “She’s my hero. I hope I could be half the woman she is.”
The account had raised $21,570 from 294 people by Sunday morning.
“The tragic events of last night make our community sit up and take notice,” David Witt, the interim Kern County fire chief, wrote Friday on Facebook. He encouraged families to create fire escape plans, close doors at night and ensure smoke alarms are working.