Lighter started Englewood house fire that killed three children
BY SARAH OSTMAN, LEEANN MATON AND KIM JANSSEN Staff Reporters April 8, 2011 9:59AM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
A mother and father fought desperately to save their 10 childrens’ lives but couldn’t rescue three of them when a fire that was started accidentally by one of the children quickly spread through their Englewood home early Thursday.
Just minutes after one of Stacey Austin and Samantha Sims’ young children accidentally started the fire while playing with a disposable cigarette lighter, the 2 1/2-story frame home near 68th and Emerald on the South Side was engulfed in flames.
“I tried to get my babies out . . . but it was too late by that time,” said a distraught Austin, who was sleeping when the fire broke out just after 2 a.m.
Austin said he tried to douse the flames with water he brought from the kitchen in a pot.
Firefighters found 4-year-old Joseph Austin, his 2-year-old sister Dashiyah Austin and 10-year-old brother Stacey Austin Jr. in a back bedroom on the first floor. Dashiyah was dead. Joseph and Stacey Jr. were rushed to the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital but died there.
Austin said he and his wife thought everyone was out safely but realized after they were out that three were still inside.
“There were so many of them, 10 of them,” said the children’s mother, Samantha Sims, crying outside what remained of her home. “I tried so hard to take care of them.”
“He was just the happiest little fella I ever met in my life,” Austin said of the boy named after him.
Chicago Fire Department. spokesman Larry Langford said the fire began when one of the couple’s 10 children, playing with a lighter in his bedroom, accidentally started his bunk bed on fire. It quickly spread to the rest of the room, despite the parents’ attempts to extinguish the blaze using pots full of water, Langford said.
Two of the children escaped the room where the blaze began, pulled out though a window by firefighters, but died later as a result of smoke inhalation, Langford said.
The firefighters couldn’t get to Dashiyah, whose body couldn’t be recovered until after the fire was out, Langford said. It took about an hour to extinguish the fire.
Seven people and a dog were in the upstairs apartment and were able to get out, said Julius Sutton, who was visiting there.
“The dog started barking, and people were downstairs banging on the door, saying, ‘There’s a fire, there’s a fire, get out,’ ” said Sutton, 35. “The house is totaled up. It’s pretty much destroyed.”
“It just happened so fast,” said Sheila Dorsey, 39, who escaped with her four children. “I’m just glad me and my kids made it out. We tried to go back in and get the other three kids, but the fire was so fast. We were trying to get through the back window, but we couldn’t do it. There was too much fire.
“Thank God for my dog,” Dorsey added. “It saved our lives.”
When Dorsey’s family was later allowed back into the home to retrieve their belongings, they found the family’s cat, Tigger, alive in an upstairs closet.
The building’s manager, Seronsa Charles, said 17 people actually lived in the building and that each of the two apartments had five bedrooms.
Neighbors gathered up clothes and food to help the bereaved and now-homeless family.
“They’re great parents,” Donna Mack, who lives a few doors away and donated children’s clothes, said of Austin and Sims. “Their kids are always clean and smartly dressed, and Samantha was always with them.”
American Red Cross officials and a CTA warming bus were at the home Thursday morning to help the people displaced by the fire.
“My other kids, they don’t really understand the gravity of the situation,” Austin said, standing outside the warming bus while his children, inside, huddled in blankets against the morning chill. “My wife and I, we don’t have any other options at this point but to wait.”