Fire broke out in the two-story Colonial-style home shortly after 6 a.m. Late into the day, Dolan, Hamden detectives and members of the fire marshal division of state police were still combing through the charred remains of the rust-colored house that was home for about a dozen years to John and Sarah Oberempt. They lived there with their two sons, 18 and 3, and daughter, 7.
Dolan said Oberempt died in the second-floor master bedroom, apparently after being overcome by smoke. He notified his family of the fire when he was on the first floor, then went back upstairs, apparently searching for them.
It is believed he went to the boys' room first, and then back to the master bedroom, where he called 911. By then, the fire had reached the second floor, and Oberempt became trapped, Dolan said.
But the two boys had already escaped from another secondfloor bedroom window, jumping from the first-floor roof into the snow, according to Dolan. Oberempt's wife, daughter and a dog left the burning house from a side door on the first floor, Dolan said.
Investigators later in the day determined the point of origin was near the couch, which was near the three front windows, but needed to speak to family members to better understand how the fire could have started, Dolan said. The Oberempts are staying with family in West Haven, he said.
Oberempt was carried from the house down three sections of icy concrete steps by about eight firefighters. He did not respond to cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Fire Chief David A. Berardesca said.
It was the town's first fire fatality in about four years, the chief said.
As a precaution, Sarah Oberempt and her children were taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital. A hospital spokesman said they were evaluated in the pediatric and adult emergency departments and were released.
A firefighter hurt his back while helping to carry Oberempt from the home.
When the mother and children left the house, they went to the home of their backyard neighbor, where they were given clothing and food before they were taken to the hospital, according to the couple who took them in, Harry and Barbara Tarasuk of 76 Hillcrest Ave.
Harry Tarasuk said he was alerted to something being wrong when he heard a neighbor's dogs barking earlier than usual. He looked out a back window and saw the flames at his neighbor's house.
"The Fire Department was already called. That amazed me," Tarasuk said.
Judy Nizen, who lives across the street from the Oberempts, said she looked out the window and saw a firetruck and then flames, which later reached the second floor.
"I thought the kids and everybody were in there. It was awful, awful, awful, awful," said Nizen, her voice trailing off.
According to Tarasuk, neighbors started knocking on one another's doors, and, before he knew it, they were bringing clothes to his house.
"We gave (the Oberempts) clothes. It was a fantastic reaction from the neighborhood," Tarasuk said.
John Oberempt was employed by a heating and air conditioning company, and his wife cared for their children.
"We're here for her, and she knows it," Tarasuk said.
A grief-stricken Sarah Oberempt and a relative returned to the scene late Thursday afternoon, but spoke to no one and didn't stay.
About 23 career and five volunteer firefighters fought the blaze.
Berardesca said that such situations are trying on firefighters, and incident debriefing or time off with their families would be available.
A single red carnation was placed in a shrub at the bottom of the concrete steps along with a small, unsigned sympathy card.
Written by New Haven Register