2 kids dead, 2 injured in fire

December 22, 2008 6:24:59 PM PST
A deadly house fire claimed the lives of two sisters ages 6 and 9 on Chicago's Southwest Side.ABC7 Chicago has learned the children's mother could face child endangerment charges.

A published report indicates that the mother was previously convicted of child endangerment and early Monday morning when a fire broke out in her home claiming the lives of two of her children that she was actually at a pool game with her boyfriend.

Fire district chief Sylvester Knox says the mother was outside the home when they arrived on scene. Police were questioning her whereabouts when the fire started.

Flames tore through a home at 72nd and Troy in the Marquette Park neighborhood Monday at approximately 1 a.m.

The Cook County medical examiner identifies the children that died in the fire as 6-year-old Perla Gonzalez and her 9-year-old sister, Carla. According to the Chicago Fire Department, those two girls had two siblings, both under the age of 11 as well. Both sisters trapped in the basement of the burning house were killed.

Fire officials determined the blaze was electrical in nature and accidental. It started in the basement and spread upwards throughout the house located in the 7200 block. When firefighters arrived the fire had engulfed the basement and the first floor. In the home there was only one working smoke detector in the attic and there was a space heater.

Police officers arrived on the scene before firefighters and rescued two of four children. They were spared, authorities say, because of the quick thinking of two Chicago police officers who were being called heroes.

"The police were kicking on the door, and I heard children screaming. The next thing I saw, they got two kids out of the window," said neighbor Vincent Paul.

"We pulled up to the house," said Carl Richardt, Chicago Police Department. "We saw smoke coming from the side of the building, got out of the squad car. I heard some screaming coming from the side of the house and just sort of went around the back and lifted up the window, pulled out two kids from the side of the house."

The two sisters who died were trapped in the basement of the burning house. Both children were pronounced dead at the scene.

"When they got down there, there was no chance for them for recovery at that time. They continued to search and rescue in the premises of the house," said Sylvester Knox of the Chicago Fire Dept.

"I saw the children come out the side window, the ones they saved. The ones that passed, I saw them bring them out wrapped up later," Paul told ABC7 Chicago.

The fire started in the basement and spread upward throughout the 1 1/2-story brick home. When firefighters arrived, the fire had already engulfed both the basement and the first floor.

Inside the home, there was only one working smoke detector in the attic, and there was a space heater.

"We don't know if the smoke detector in the basement would have helped the children," Knox said.

The children's mother was outside of the building when authorities arrived. Police were questioning her Monday evening regarding her whereabouts when the fire started.

" I was with her. She was screaming for her kids. I was trying to console her," said neighbor Norma Meda.

"She has all my sympathy," said Joan Haynes, another neighbor.

Eighth District police officers on routine patrol were the first to pit stop the house fire on South Troy. As they pulled two children to safety, the kids told the officers two other children were still inside. While officers brought the rescued boy and girl into a squad car to warm up, other officers tried to get into the burning home.

"We went up to the back door of the basement and kicked the doors in to try to get at the children that we were told were in the basement, but the smoke was too thick," said Elliot Flagg, Chicago Police Department.

The fire in the 1 1/2-story brick house began just after 1 a.m., and was brought under control about a half-hour later.

One child, who was asthmatic, was taken in serious condition to University of Chicago Comer's Children's Hospital with smoke inhalation; the other was taken in good condition to Holy Cross early Monday. Their conditions were not known Monday evening.

A preliminary investigation hints at an electrical glitch as the accidental cause. Authorities say it may have started simply because there were too many items, including a space heater, plugged into the same outlet.

"We only found one smoke detector working, which was in the attic area, so it's important to understand that when you have a single-family home plus, my understanding is the basement was a rental unit, so we need to have a smoke detector in each level," said Cmdr. Joe Miranda, Chicago Fire Department. "So the attic was inadequate. You had to have one on the first floor, another one in the basement, simply because there was living quarters there."

Miranda said the department would be doing a four-block radius canvas in the area Monday, door to door, speaking to the residents directly, handing them fire safety literature to prevent similar situations.

"We're also giving them a smoke detector with a working battery so they can put it up in their apartment or home," Miranda said. "It's also equally important to understand that if the public needs a smoke detector, all they have to do is visit their nearest fire home and the firehouse will give them a smoke detector, or they can contact us at public education at 312-747-1725."


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