Chicago Fire Kills 6 Children
Without electricity since May, the impoverished immigrant family living on the third floor of a brown brick apartment building was using candles for light.
About 12:20 a.m. Sunday, a candle started one of the city’s deadliest and most heartbreaking fires in years. The blaze on Chicago’s North Side moved fast through the three-bedroom apartment, killing six children ages 3 to 14, some of whom screamed “We’re burning” as neighbors watched helplessly.
“What do you say?” an emotional Chicago Fire Commissioner Ray Orozco said. “It’s been the worst in a long time. The only thing you can do is just pray for these poor people.”
Orozco said the gutted apartment had no smoke detectors, but the landlord of the building said each unit was wired with the detectors at the time the tenants moved there.
The dead were identified as five Ramirez siblings -- Kevin, 3; Idaly, 6; Suzette, 10; Eric, 12; and Vanessa, 14 -- and 3-year-old Escarlet Ramos.
The Ramirez children’s mother, Augusta Tellez, 43, was hospitalized and released. Altogether, nine children were in the apartment with Tellez.
“The mother came running out with one child in her arms, screaming to the neighbors that there were other children inside,” said Cmdr. Will Knight.
Derrell Dixon said two children appeared at a window and he and several other neighbors held up a blanket, trying unsuccessfully to get the youngsters to jump to safety.
“The kids were screaming and screaming, ‘Help! Help! We’re burning, we’re burning,’ ” said Dixon, 22, adding that he saw firefighters rescue one of the children with a ladder.
Al Tillman, 32, was visiting a friend in the area when he heard the children yelling for help. He ran up to the third floor and crawled into the smoke-filled apartment, where he managed to grab a child’s arm. He dragged the boy outside and handed him to paramedics.
“I’m shaken up because the other children didn’t make it,” Tillman said. “I only heard one child. I wish I could have saved the others.”
Robert McClendon was visiting a cousin in a neighboring building when he noticed the odor of smoke and walked into the alley between the buildings. McClendon, 33, said he saw flames in the third-floor kitchen and a woman in the alley yelling, “My kids, my kids.”
He said he ran up the rear stairs of the building. When he reached the top, he said, he heard children screaming, but flames and heat forced him back.
Myron Hall, 27, who lives beneath the Ramirez apartment, was awakened by the smoke and screaming. Someone kicked in his door, looking for victims. Hall raced into the smoke-filled hall and tried to get upstairs.
“I put my shirt over my face,” he said, adding that another man was running down the stairs carrying a child. “But it was way too much smoke.”
When firefighters arrived, they saw smoke billowing from the third-floor apartment and residents leaning out windows. One of those was a boy on the third floor, whom they rescued with a ladder.
Eight people were rescued from the building, Orozco said.
Chicago Alderman Joe Moore, who walked through the building, said he was unable to find a smoke detector in the gutted apartment. Orozco said smoke detectors were placed in common areas of the building, and Moore said he saw smoke detectors in the apartment below the burned unit.
The owner of the building, developer Jay Johnson, said in a phone interview Sunday night that “we have working smoke detectors in all of our apartment units at the time the tenants sign their leases.”
A friend of one of the Ramirez children said their mother originally was from Mexico but the family had been in the United States for at least 16 years.
“The community is in shock,” Jasmin Lamb, 16, said tearfully as she placed pink and white carnations on the sidewalk near the apartment. “They were a nice, warm family.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.