Cabin fire deaths ruled accidental; family hopes for Bear Creek Park memorial service

Two children found in a cabin that burned to the ground last Thursday near Phoenix died of asphyxia from inhaling smoke and carbon monoxide, and the deaths were accidental, according to a state medical examiner's report released Saturday.

Emerald Robertson, who would have been a year old today, and 4-year-old Ethan Robertson were still in their beds when firefighters found them, despite several earlier failed rescue attempts by the children's mother, Jenetta Robertson, and her fiance's father, Darrell Plankenhorn.

The cause of the fire is undetermined, but a woodstove inside the cabin might have been a factor, said Fire Chief Dan Marshall of Jackson County Fire District 5.

Emerald, called Emmie for short, had not yet taken her first step, said her father, Michael Robertson. Ethan turned 4 at the beginning of the month. He had just learned how to write his name, Michael Robertson said.

"They were two of the most special children in the world, and it's extremely sad they're gone," Michael Robertson said. "All of the families involved in their lives will miss them.

"I hope it's a reminder to people that nothing is more important than their children."

Jenetta Robertson had left the small cabin to go to Plankenhorn's house on the same property at 6521 Coleman Creek Road to brush her teeth and prepare a bottle for Emerald when the fire broke out shortly before 9 p.m.

The cabin, where Robertson lived with the children and her fiancé, Chris Plankenhorn, had no running water and was heated by the woodstove.

The cabin was about 20 feet away from the main residence, where Chris Plankenhorn's parents, Darrell and May Plankenhorn live. It was not damaged in the fire.

Chris and May Plankenhorn were at work at the time.

Earlier reports provided by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department incorrectly stated that the children's father, Michael Robertson, was with Jenetta Robertson at the home when the fire broke out. The Robertsons are divorced and live in separate residences.

Jenetta Robertson said she and Darrell Plankenhorn were alerted to the fire when the lights in the main house flickered.

When they ran out to the cabin, it was already engulfed in flames. Darrell Plankenhorn tried to reach the children through the back door, but the flames were too intense for him to enter, Jenetta Robertson said. She and Darrell Plankenhorn both tried to open and then break down the front door but were unable to do so. Darrell Plankenhorn then called 9-1-1.

"It was a very disturbing 9-1-1 call," said Jackson County sheriff's Detective Colin Fagan. "You could hear his desperation and frustration knowing the children were in there, and he couldn't get in."

Fire crews from District 5, the Medford Fire Department and Mercy Flights ambulance were hampered in their response by the narrow, twisting dirt road leading to the residence from Coleman Creek Road and heavy rainfall in the thickly forested, mountainous area.

A time and date for the children's funeral has not yet been set.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, where Jenetta works, will pay for the children's funeral, which is being handled by Stephens Family Chapel in Grants Pass.

The children's family hopes to hold a memorial service Saturday at Bear Creek Park but does not yet know whether the city will permit it.

"Bear Creek Park was one of Ethan's favorite places to go," said Norman Rowe, the children's grandfather. "He loved the castles."

Red Robin will also accept donations for the children's family at its location at 499 Medford Center.

"There has been an amazing amount of support for us from the entire community," Jenetta Robertson said. "It's been overwhelming and such a blessing."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.