This July 4th, a local woman whose son and grandson were killed Friday in cabin fire near Boise Idaho is recalling how much her son and grandson loved the military and loved this country.
“My heart was irreparably broken on 30 June 2017 near Donnelly, Idaho,” Berta Gonzalez-Harper posted on her Facebook page Monday. “I sincerely thank all of you that have called, emailed, messaged or stopped by to express your condolences on the loss of my son and grandson.”
On Friday, US Army Lt. Col. James Edward Harper III and his son, 14-year-old James Edward Harper IV were two of four people killed in an explosion inside a large cabin near Donnelly, Idaho, about 90 miles north of Boise.
Erin Smith, 34, and her daughter Autumn, believed to be 6 or 7 years old, also died in the incident, a spokeswoman for the Valley County Medical Examiner and Coroner’s Office told The Signal Monday.
Although no official cause of the blast and fire have been announced, authorities told The Signal Monday they are paying particular attention to a propane-fueled fireplace.
“We have not determined a cause but we focused in on a propane-fueled fireplace,” State Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl told The Signal Monday.
According to Lt. Jason Speer of the Valley County Sheriff’s Office in Cascade, Id., the blast happened shortly after 10 p.m. Friday prompting multiple calls about a structure fire at 541 Whitewater Drive in Donnelly, ID.
Responders from Donnelly Fire, Cascade Fire, McCall Fire, Idaho State Police, US Forest Service Law Enforcement, Southern Idaho Timber Protection Association, and the Valley County Sheriff’s Office went to the scene and found the structure was fully engulfed, he said.
The units conducted suppression efforts and extinguished the fire. William Smith, 46, of Boise, whose wife perished in the fire, was taken to St. Luke’s McCall Hospital, treated and released.
Gonzalez-Harper called her son “a respected and decorated soldier and US Cavalry Tank Commander who was recently promoted to second in command of the entire Northwest Region, served in Iraq and many other dangerous areas … just a great American Patriot proud of his country and his military family.”
“This was apparently a large cabin with three fireplaces, at least one of which was a propane fireplace.
“My son and grandson were apparently in the main living room area Friday night where the propane fireplace was located,” she wrote on Facebook.
“It appears that there was a violent explosion perhaps related to the propane fireplace, my son tried to push JJ out of the structure but the ceiling collapsed on both of them trapping them.
“The structure was completely engulfed in flames and four did not survive including my guys,” she wrote.
The only person to survive the blast was the cabin owner, William Smith who has since been treated and released from Saint Luke’s McCall hospital.
Gonzalez-Harper’s son and grandson were scheduled to be at their family reunion in Oklahoma over the 4th of July holiday so were probably leaving the cabin the next morning,” she wrote. “But it was not to be.”
She described her grandson as: “a great young man, respectful , responsible, intelligent, an excellent student, wrestler, football and baseball player and all-around athlete who lived and enjoyed spending time with his dad.”
Sandahl said it would be at least a couple of weeks before an official cause of the fire and blast are determined.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt