The fire broke out just after 2 a.m. in one of the back bedrooms of the home at 6758 S. Emerald Ave, according to fire officials, and it spread quickly.
The children's mother, Samantha Sims, says she lost her 9-year-old son, Stacey, her 4-year-old son, Joseph, and her 2-year-old daughter, Dashiya.
Sims says her seven other children got out and so did their father, Stacey Austin.
"I brought the little kids out...I havebabies who are not barely walking. I brought them out, and I tried to get back in and it was too much, the smoke overtook me and I couldn't get back there," said Sims.
"My kids were the healthiest, happiest, strongest kids that you ever want to see and I'm going to miss them. But I do believe God had a better plan for them. He called them early, that was his will. So I just have to live with it," Austin told ABC7.
Fire officials say the 4-year-old was playing with a lighter in the bedroom when the bedding on bunk beds caught fire. The mother tried to put it out with water-filled pots, but according to authorities, the fire got away from her.
The battalion chief says all three of the children were found trapped in the back bedroom. Firefighters were able to pull 4-year-old Joseph and 9-year-old Stacey out a window but they later died at Comer Children's Hospital from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Firefighters could only recover the body of 2-year-old Dashiya after putting out the fire.
"When you're dealing with children, everybody out here are fathers and mothers, we know what it's like. It's a sad thing. It's terrible," Battalion Chief Keith Witt said.
Two police officers who responded to the fire also suffered smoke inhalation.
Neighbor Marcella Harper had just gotten home when she saw the building across the street erupting in flames.
"We heard somebody banging, like banging on the door. And we turned around and we saw a couple of older kids running out the house. And we saw the fire in the back window. And it was a small fire initially, but it kind of engulfed pretty quick, so I called 911," said Harper.
Crews were boarding up a back window as a small memorial grew in front of the apartment building.
"It's very hard. They were very close. Just a lot of kids having fun," said Tiffany, Sims' cousin.
Red Cross officials and a CTA warming bus arrived to attend to the family and at least 17 people who were displaced by the fire. The two-and-a-half story building is now uninhabitable.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, grief counselors were on hand at Benjamin Banneker Elementary where 9-year-old Stacey was a third grader. He was scheduled to perform an African line dance in a heritage performance at school Thursday. His surviving siblings also attend the school.
"It's so tragic. You wake up with your family. You just don't think you'll go to bed without three of your kids," Harper said.
"We were getting reports from the family that there were persons trapped, so we initiated a primary search. We had a very heavy fire. It took Engine 54 to get the first water on the fire for the front and did a tremendous job getting down the hallways. The kids were in the back, though, and again, conditions were very bad when we got there," said Witt.
A woman who lives on the second floor and lost everything couldn't stop crying while she explained how people tried to save the children
"It happened real fast. They tried to go back in and get the other three kids, but the fire was moving so fast. We were trying to get through the back window but couldn't do it. It was so much fire," said Sheila Dorsey.
A former landlord of the property came by to lament the loss of life, especially since he had warned the parents to take better care of the home.
"I feel real bad for the kids. The kids deserve more. And that is what we're here for, that's our next generation to run the country," said Gus Kouvelis.
Donations of money, food and clothes are being taken for the victims' family. People interested in donating should call the First Corinthian Baptist Church at 773-488-6519.
First Corinthian Baptist Church
7500 south Halsted
Chicago, Il 60620