The body of a 4-year-old boy was found hours after a fire destroyed a house near downtown Elyria Saturday.
The fire started at around 3 p.m. and the house was fully involved when fire crews arrived at the home on Second Street, officials said. A neighbor said a 4-year-old child retreated upstairs when the fire broke out and did not come out. The neighbor added that it appeared the fire started in the living room area.
"Just tragic that in a matter half an hour, the house was fully engulfed," said neighbor Jim Finley. "“The girls got out... and the baby never came out.”
According to Assistant Fire Chief Joe Pronesti, the firefighters that initially responded did a "tremendous job" in the initial moments of the response. However, the age and construction of the century old house allowed the fire to quickly and ferociously grow. Eventually, the size and intensity of the fire prevented firefighters from accessing the home's interior.
"We launched an interior attack, an aggressive search we call it, and due to the rapid fire spread because of what we call blue frame construction – there’s no partitions – crews had to get out of there,” Pronesti said.
Fire crews dismantled the home with the help of an excavator to search for the child, officials said. Debris had to be removed piece-by-piece because the structure was so badly compromised.
"I’ve been on the job 30 years and I’ve had a lot of fatal fires and I’ve had to use lots of excavators but never have I ever had to use an excavator while we still have someone unaccounted for inside, possibly," Pronesti said.
Dozens of neighbors and bystanders stood by and watched as crews dismantled the house. The Red Cross was also on scene. Friends and family members of the victim were also on scene. Many of them were inconsolable. Finley described his neighbors as great, church-going people.
"The owner of the house, the grandfather, he would give you the shirt off of his back," Finley said. "Even if it was 10 degrees out, he would give you the shirt off of his back. If you needed food, he’d give you food. He was that kind of a guy. This is just devastating.”
As the sun began to set, firefighters recovered the little boy's remains. Firefighters on one of the ladder trucks held up a large tarp in order to shield the recovery efforts from public view. This was done in order to give the family as much privacy as possible.
"We want to be very careful and respectful. All of our firemen are dads," Pronesti said. "It’s tough but they’re doing a great job.”
Officials said three children, a mother and a grandfather lived in the home. Finley had known the child that died in the fire since the boy was in diapers.
"I don’t understand why God would allow a little child to die but we’re not to question our faith," Finley said. "It must have been meant. But it’s a sad, sad day today.”
The child's identity has not been released. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.