Updated: 04-26-2004 11:36:32 AM

Wisconsin Firefighter Loses Son In House Blaze

Courtesy of La Crosse Tribune

A La Crosse firefighter who drove up to his in-laws' home to find it ablaze with his young son and niece trapped inside quickly felt the support of his other family — the La Crosse Fire Department.

About 35 off-duty firefighters turned up Wednesday afternoon at 700 Lakeview Drive on French Island to offer support to their colleague, Bee Xiong. They still were there hours later when the bodies of 3-year-old Donovan Xiong and 23-month-old Kylie Xiong were brought out of the rubble.

"It was the presence," La Crosse Fire Chief Pete Stinson said. "They stood around and pretty much encircled the family, talked to Bee and offered encouragement.

"Bee had to identify (his son's) body, and he needed support at that time," Stinson said. "When the emotions got peaked, we were there for support."

Many members of the local Hmong community also provided support.

The blaze was fought by fire departments from the town of Campbell and La Crescent, Minn., though the La Crosse Fire Department helped secure the scene for a time when the other firefighters attended a "defusing" session in response to the tragedy.

As is common practice, the La Crosse Fire Department also provided a dog trained to sniff out accelerants, though foul play was ruled out.

Investigators said the two children had been home alone for about 35 minutes when the fire was reported by a neighbor at 2:35 p.m. The cause remains under investigation, though investigators suspect one or both toddlers ignited combustible material in a furnace and water heater in the basement.

Both bodies were found in the basement after the fire had been extinguished. Preliminary tests showed they died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Bee Xiong had just got off work, and he was collecting his son from the home of the father- and mother-in-law, Teng and Ter Moua. He arrived as Campbell and La Crescent crews were fighting the fire.

Police have said the grandmother left for work at 2 p.m., and contrary to an initial report, the grandfather also was at work. Two older Moua children were due to arrive home from school between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m., police said.

A decision on whether charges will be filed against anyone will be made by La Crosse County District Attorney Scott Horne after police reports have been submitted and reviewed.

Stinson said La Crosse firefighters felt an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, and many were reminded of past fires where children have died.

"You always go back to the first child you pulled out of a fire," Stinson said. "You still remember the names, dates and what happened."

The atmosphere at the main fire department in La Crosse was "very somber, very quiet," Stinson said. Some firefighters called their spouses and asked them to bring their children to station, he said.

Others "couldn't wait" to get home and see their children, he said.

Bee Xiong came to La Crosse from Eau Claire, Wis., about 18 months ago after being offered a job at the fire department. His wife, True, came to the area years earlier. They have another son, a 9-year-old.

A two-day funeral service for Donovan Xiong will be held Sunday and Monday in Eau Claire, while a service for Kylie Xiong will be held late next week in La Crosse.

Members of the La Crosse and Campbell fire department, as well as representatives from other fire departments in the county, will be in attendance, Stinson said.

Additionally, there will be members of the Eau Claire Fire Department there, where Bee Xiong was an intern, Stinson said.

Teng Moua said Friday that his two grandchildren will be greatly missed.

Though just 3, Donovan was great talker in Hmong and English, Teng Moua said.

"He speak English perfectly," the grandfather said. "It would come out of his mouth, and I couldn't believe it. He'd tell me all kind of stories about fishing, going to the park and trips to the fire station with his dad."

Kylie, who was days short of turning 2, was learning both languages, Teng Moua said. She understood being told she was being taken to her grandparents' house when being picked up.

"She was so cute," Teng Moua said. "She would get her shoes, and get ready herself."

A fund for the Teng Moua family has been set up at State Bank of La Crosse, 401 Main St.