CLEVELAND — Lt. Mike Norman, of the Cleveland Division of Fire, ruled the house fire that killed two children Tuesday as unintentional and determined a space heater plugged into an extension cord caused the house to go up in flames.
A 1-month-old girl and a 1-year-old boy were identified as the victims of the house fire on Jeffries Avenue in Cleveland.
Norman said it appeared the home had "a number of extension cords with heat-producing appliances (like the space heater) plugged into extension cords."
He added that "it was a newer space heater, it may have been too close to combustibles, hard to say."
Three other children were rescued from the burning home and taken to the hospital, authorities said.
“It’s sad, it’s emotional, it’s upsetting," said Cleveland Fire Chief Angelo Calvillo. "By the grace of God, that’s what we’re here for - to protect lives and to save property. And we do a really good job of it. But we don’t win every time.”
Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia of the Cleveland Division of Police said five children were in the house alone at the time of the fire, with the oldest child around 14 years old.
Ciaccia later notified News 5 that the mother was transported from the scene.
Kimberly Maxwell, who lives down the street from the family, said she could see a teenage girl on the roof above the front porch of the home yelling for help around 10 a.m. Tuesday.
“I peeked out my front window and then I saw the black smoke coming out the window and the girl sitting on top of the roof. So I grabbed my stuff, threw a coat on, and ran over there to see what we could do,” she said.
She said other neighbors brought their personal ladder to the engulfed home and were able to help the teen girl down. Two other children were also rescued. The oldest girl informed neighbors the toddler and infant were still inside.
“We all went to the back on the side of the house, but the flames were so bad there. One of the guys was going to go in to see if he could still try to go in and get the two kids out. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen,” Maxwell said.
Despite both neighbors' and firefighters' best efforts, the 18-month-old boy and 1-month-old girl both died in the home.
“The firefighters did an aggressive attack and search and rescue to find those children and make sure they could get them. It was too late for those two,” Calvillo said. “To have these children pass like that, it hurts all of us, it hurts our community. We’re geared to go in there and rescue and save lives and help people when they call.”
The Chief said it appears the home's smoke detectors were not working. He issued a warning about the importance of early detection.
“These fires happen quickly. In a matter of minutes, the fire in a home can become well-involved. It’s [for] your protection,” he said.
Ciaccia said fire arson investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire, which may have started upstairs.
Ward 2 Councilman Kevin Bishop offered his condolences to the family and friends affected by the house fire.
“This is a heartbreaking situation for the family,” said Bishop, whose ward includes the area. “This is just a tragedy.”
Calvillo said medics transported the mother arrived during the firefighter. Medics transported her and the three surviving children to Marymount Hospital. Another sibling was in school at the time.
“It’s unfortunate and just really sad," Maxwell said. "God bless the family. I don’t know how they’ll get through this, but hopefully, they will."
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