Fire engulfs converted bus, leaving Southern Utah family homeless and fighting for their life

ST. GEORGE — A fire that engulfed a city bus converted into a traveling home in Veyo has left a family of six homeless and the father and two children in critical condition. According to family members, the father went into the flames after he realized two of his children were still inside.

Scene of a fire that engulfed a bus converted into a travelling home, Veyo, Utah, Dec. 28, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Amanda Hawley, St. George News

The fire at 90 E. Center Street, the flames of which could be seen on state Route 18 from St. George, was first reported at 10 p.m. Monday evening and took a multiagency ground and air effort to put out and render aid to the family. 

According to family, the father, Kyle Copeland, an 11-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son are all in critical condition at the burn care and trauma centers at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas. The two children had successful surgery performed Tuesday morning. 

The mother, Whitney Copeland, and another son and daughter were seen at St. George Regional Hospital but were determined to be mostly uninjured save for some abrasions on the boy from climbing out a broken window. 

Dammeron Valley Fire Department and Rescue Chief Chet Barnes said the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but he added that the fire to the bus/home was secondary to an initial propane tank explosion. 

Scene of a fire that engulfed a bus converted into a travelling home, Veyo, Utah, Dec. 28, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Amanda Hawley, St. George News

He added the real difficulty wasn’t putting out the fire, but making sure the family were safe and treated, especially as far as getting medical transport to the site from the St. George area. 

“It was an extremely chaotic scene. We had multiple patients who were injured,” Barnes said. 

According to authorities, the Veyo Fire Department was first on the scene to battle the flames. They were later joined by Dammeron Valley Fire Department and Rescue as well as the Enterprise Fire Department. St. George Fire also arrived to provide additional support. Intermountain Life Flight and Gold Cross Ambulance rendered medical aid. Mercy Air and Classic Air were also dispatched but couldn’t take off because of adverse weather conditions, Barnes said.   

“It was just really an amazing effort by everybody.”

Greg Copeland, father to Kyle and grandfather of the children, said his son went in to rescue his children.

“When the explosion occurred, two of the kids were still in the bus,” Greg Copeland said. “His wife ripped off her coat to go in but he pushed her out of the way and went straight into the flame.”

An undated picture taken for the Christmas season of Kyle and Whitney Copeland and family | Photo via GoFundMe, St. George News

Kyle Copeland is sedated and intubated in the intensive care unit with burns to portions of his body at the hospital in Las Vegas. His oldest child, an 11-year-old daughter, had the most severe injuries, with burns to 80% of her body. 

Driving down from his home in the Salt Lake City area, Greg Copeland couldn’t help but think of how his son wanted so much to provide for a family himself before he even reached adolescence.

“He was about 8 years old, a little after his baptism, he came into bedroom just inconsolable,” he said of Kyle. “What it all boiled down to is he said, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to provide for my family growing up.”

Family friend Shay Dexter, whose home the bus was parked at, said the Copelands had just realized five months ago their dream of converting a city bus into a traveling home.

“They put their heart and soul into it,” said Dexter, who has organized a GoFundMe to raise funds for the Copelands. She said they lived in Veyo for a year four years ago and were back to be with their friends from Thanksgiving until departing for a journey to Texas after the new year. “He served in the military, so they’ve been all over.”

Dexter was staying with her parents in St. George but got a late-night call from people who thought her house was on fire. 

“People driving from St. George saw the ball of fire. People heard the explosion from the Veyo pools,” Dexter said. When she arrived, it was of little comfort that her home was intact when she saw the fire and ash coming from the bus. 

“It was terrifying when I found out it was the bus,” Dexter said. “They have four little kids in there.”

Greg Copeland said the front part of the bus was a total loss. “They had a closet area and a shower that was halfway back that appears to protect the back part,” Copeland said. 

Unfortunately, most of the family’s possessions were in the front part of the bus that was destroyed. 

“Neighbors were able to retrieve bins. Those bins contained bathing suits,” Copeland said. “There’s not much use for bathing suits.”

Ed. note: When making charitable contributions it is advisable to consult with professionals for tax advice and investment risks.

Update 10:30 a.m. Video and additional details added.

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