‘It was a nightmare’: 3 young kids die in Hammond house fire
BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ Sun-Times Media January 9, 2014 7:29AM
Updated: February 11, 2014 6:18AM
When firefighters arrived at the blazing Hammond home late Wednesday night, Andre Young, who was severely burned, was lying in the snow with two of his children.
Young screamed that three more of his children were still inside, fire inspector Michael Opinker said.
But for them, it was too late.
“The kids never even had a chance,” Opinker said.
The three children, 4-year-old Dasani; his sister, 3-year-old Alexia, and their 7-month-old brother, Jayden, suffered burns and died.
The first firefighters arrived at 10:26 p.m., Opinker said, and they found the front and the side doors of the home blocked by clothes, furniture and other debris, Opinker said.
“It was a nightmare,” he said. “It was so discouraging because if we had been able to get in there, we might have had a chance to save them.”
Hammond fire officials and the state fire marshal are 90 percent sure that a space heater connected to a propane tank — which Opinker called a “dangerous setup” — likely sparked the fire. Candles were found in the area where the fire started — a downstairs front room where the children were found.
Opinker said he and other firefighters had never seen so many kids perish in a fire.
Andre Young and his two other sons, ages 2 and 6, were taken to Stroger Hospital in Chicago. Young was in critical condition late Thursday afternoon, according to a hospital spokeswoman. The boys were in good condition in the pediatric intensive care unit.
The Hammond Fire Department received a 911 call reporting the fire at about 10:20 p.m. Wednesday. Hammond Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Margraf said it appeared that Andre Young had pulled two of the children to safety.
Margraf said the lower apartment did not have electricity. He said the mother was not at home at the time but at some point was across the street in shock.
“Unfortunately, I see too many of these” fires caused by space heaters, he said.
Margraf said he had heard that the two injured children were talking, which was a good sign.
Jasmin Rice, who lives in the upstairs apartment with her boyfriend and three children, said they first smelled the smoke and thought perhaps it was from something they left on. Then they heard someone yell that there was a fire.
“His first instinct was to grab the kids,” Rice said of her boyfriend.
He took the children outside while she tried to find their keys.
As they ran for safety, they saw Young run out of the downstairs apartment.
“He was on fire,” she said.
Her boyfriend started trying to knock down the front door, but as soon as he did, flames came shooting out.
“The smoke, the flames, everything happened so fast,” Rice said.
Gar Liptack, who lives across the street, said the fire came on fast. “The light is what caught my eye,” Liptack said.
When he went outside to see what was going on, fire and police officials were already there and told him to stay inside.
Another neighbor, Nicki Flick, said she was sleeping when the fire started but she heard her husband cry out that there was a fire. Flick said they couldn’t see the family, but they saw that the flames had consumed the front of the house.
She said the family had lived there at least since last spring but that as early as last summer they were living without electricity. Flick had heard a noise coming from the house and when she asked, the mother said the noise was a generator they were using because they didn’t have money for electricity.
“She said, ‘Well, it’s better than not having any lights,’ ” Flick said.
The family was very friendly, she said, and she would often see several of the children playing outside, always with at least one of the parents with them. When some of the children thought they saw their dad coming home one time, they ran toward the vehicle yelling “daddy, daddy,” Flick said.
“He loved all those kids,” she said.
Liptack said he would wave to the family when he saw them, including Wednesday when they were out walking the baby in a stroller, and that he had shoveled their drive earlier this week.
Sun-Times Media Wire and correspondent Michelle L. Quinn contributed to this report.