Fire At Family Sleepover In Chicago Leaves 8 Dead, Including 6 Children. No Working Smoke Detectors Found, Officials Say.
Eight white crosses grace the small patch of dirt and grass outside an apartment building in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. Each cross, adorned with a red heart and a bouquet of flowers, bears a name handwritten in black. At the base of a smaller, handmade cross rests a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll.
The crosses mark the eight lives lost in what authorities are calling the city's deadliest fire in recent years, the Chicago Tribune reported. Six of the people killed were children and the ages of the victims ranged from 3 months to 16 years old, according to WLS-TV. Two teenagers, both 14, are on life support at a hospital, the news station reported. All but one were from the same extended family, according to the Tribune.
"We have not had this in many, many, many years, this amount of fatalities and injuries in one location," Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago told reporters. Santiago added that one firefighter was injured battling the blaze and was taken to the hospital in "good, stable" condition.
Around 4 a.m. on Sunday, firefighters and emergency crews responded to a fire that had broken out in the second-story of a coach house located behind an apartment building in the city's West Side. Santiago said a neighbor who was on her way home saw the smoke and called it in, WSL-TV reported.
2-11 Extra alarm fire and EMS Plan 3 have been struck and secured. There are 7 fatalities (2 adults and 5 children). Two additional children were also transported to local hospital. 1 CFD member transported in good condition. pic.twitter.com/4EDA4G71Ny
— Chicago Fire Media (@CFDMedia) August 26, 2018
"The person who came and made the initial call also started knocking on doors and telling people there was a fire, so they basically started to self-evacuate as the fire companies got on the scene," he said. "So the female who did that saved a lot of lives."
Immediately upon entering the blazing home, firefighters started to find people, Fire Chief William Vogt told reporters.
"The firefighters worked aggressively as quickly as possible moving everybody out," Vogt said. "We had everybody out as fast as possible."
But Vogt said the crews were not able to make it in time.
"Unfortunately, they succumbed to their injuries before we got here," he said.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt told the Chicago Sun-Times that all those who died had been on the home's second floor. Merritt said investigators did not find any working smoke detectors in the building.
In a tweet, Larry Langford, another fire department spokesman, said investigators determined that the fire originated in an "enclosed rear porch" of the house. The cause is still under investigation, according to the tweet.
Langford told the Chicago Tribune that lives could have been saved had smoke detectors been in use.
"It was not hard to get out. The fire started in the rear, and the entryway to the front was wide open," he said. "Had they been awake or if someone had woken them, they would have gotten out."
The victims had been attending a sleepover at the home, 15-year-old Marcos Contreras told the Chicago Tribune. Contreras, who lost siblings and cousins in the blaze, said he was awakened by his sister and the pair ran to the house, but by the time they arrived the "whole house was on fire."
"I don't even got words to explain the pain I'm feeling right now," Contreras said. "It just feels like my whole world is crashing."
Video showed thick, dark smoke billowing from the building's windows. Flames erupted from the back of the home, casting an eerie glow into the night sky. Numerous police cars, ambulances and firetrucks lined the street, their emergency lights cutting through the haze.
The Rev. Clifford Spears first learned about the tragedy while watching the news at 5 a.m.
"It just flooded my heart," Spears told The Washington Post, adding he decided to go to the neighborhood after his early morning service.
"What happens one place can also happen where we are," Spears said. "That's what moved me to go. That could've been us."
Arriving shortly before 10 a.m., Spears said, he saw a crowd of people gathered in the street and officials still on the scene. Many were sobbing and crying.
"They were hurting bad," he said. "We wrapped our arms around each other. I had no answers for them. I held them."
Sitting on sidewalks, people huddled together. Some clutched photos while others leaned against one another, their faces wet with tears. Group prayers were led, and candles lit inscribed with the names of the victims and placed on the sidewalk, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Spears was one of the people who spoke.
"I said, 'Lord we look to you,'" he recalled. "'We know according to your word that you give power to the faint and to those who have no might. . . . Now, we need your help.'"
Sunday evening, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also issued a statement.
"The men and women of the Chicago Fire Department did their very best to save the victims of this morning's deadly fire," the statement read. "Any time a person is lost in a fire these members feel the pain. And we grieve with the families. . . . We all pray the two living victims will make a recovery despite the odds."
Mourning continued well into Sunday night with a candlelight vigil held on the street where the fire happened, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
"I don't even know how I'm going to wake up and continue life knowing that my brothers and sisters are six feet underground," Marcos Contreras told WSL-TV.