Woodlawn fire that killed 2 sisters started by gas stove used to heat apartment

CHICAGO (WLS) -- An apartment building fire that killed two young sisters this weekend in the city's Woodlawn neighborhood was started by gas stove that was being used to heat a basement apartment, fire officials said.

"There was a report the gas line to the stove had ruptured during the incident which also helped fuel the fire," said District Chief Dan Cunningham, of the Chicago Fire Department.

The sisters, 7-month-old Ziya Grace and 2-year-old Jamaii Grace, were found dead in the basement, which did not have a furnace. They died of smoke inhalation and their deaths ruled accidental. Three other family members were injured.

The fire broke out at 10:30 p.m. Saturday in the 6600-block of South Champlain.

The building has a history of code violations, according to the city's Building Department, and will probably now be demolished. They are investigating whether the apartment unit met legal requirements.

The gas line was not up to code, officials said. In addition, there were several combustible items, such as clothing, near the stove. The basement apartment also did not have a smoke detector.

"Two-thirds of all fire fatalities are in structures that don't have working smoke detectors. The numbers alone will tell you how important they are," Cunningham said.

The building's owner Jimmie Hampton, who is a relative of the victims, declined comment on Monday.


A 6-year-old boy remained in critical condition Monday after he sustained second-degree burns over 70 percent of his body.

Two other family members also remain hospitalized. The girls' 25-year-old mother and their 48-year-old aunt escaped the basement on their own. They suffered non-life threatening injures and remain in the hospital.

One firefighter did suffer minor injuries, and was treated and released.

On Monday, relatives returned to the apartment to retrieve any salvageable items, including Ziya's favorite toy. They declined to speak to ABC7.


A memorial continued to grow Monday outside the home with flowers and stuffed animals.

Neighbors said they heard the screams coming from inside the home and rushed over to try and help.

"Your experience kicks in. You try your best but the heat and the smoke wouldn't allow it. We tried our best there was nothing we could do," said neighbor Ed Adam.

The loss is felt throughout the community.

"It's devastating to know there were babies in this house and there was nothing more I could do by the time I got here. The flames were blazing out of the basement window," said neighbor Taneisha Grayson.

Fire officials said there were no smoke alarms in the basement. For more information on smoke detectors and fire safety, visit Operation Save A Life.
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