MANSFIELD, Ohio — A 3-year-old girl was killed in an apparent arson fire that was started in a vacant house next door to an occupied building on South Foster Street in Mansfield early Wednesday morning, according to police.
Mansfield police responded to 212 S. Foster St. at about 2:23 a.m. after the Mansfield Fire Department requested assistance at the fire scene, according to a news release from police.
On arrival it was learned that the fire started at the 212 address, a vacant house, then spread to 208 S. Foster St., which was an occupied residence, police said. The residents in that home were awoken by a neighbor who saw the flames and pounded on their door to wake them.
A 3-year-old girl who was staying in an upstairs bedroom at that residence was unable to be rescued due to smoke and flames, police said. A pregnant woman at that home was taken to a hospital for treatment after experiencing possible labor pains. No other injuries were reported, and the three adult and four juvenile occupants got out safely.
A Mansfield fire lieutenant said rescuers found the little girl who was trapped upstairs on their second try, but she had already died by the time they got to her. He noted that she was being babysat by one of the women who lived at the house.
"I wanted to run in there, the cops wouldn’t let me," said Clifton Williams, the father of the 3-year-old victim.
"It’s my baby, as a dad I’m suppose to do that, part of me feels like I failed her."
Williams says he can't believe his baby girl who loved to dress up like a princess, is gone.
"She would go up to strangers in the store and just give them hugs." said Williams. "She made a lot of friends that way. Three years old, but the life of the party."
For a fire department that deals with, on average, one fatal fire per year, Lieutenant Daniel Crow said the situation was incredibly difficult for the family of the child as well as for the rescuers who weren't able to save her.
"Most of us are parents and we have children and we relate to the fear and just the indescribable emotion that comes with that," Crow said.
Crow confirmed that the fire hydrant directly across from the houses that caught fire did not have adequate flow to run a fire hose line, but the trucks had a supply of water for the initial attack and were able to connect to a hydrant down the street, at the corner, to fight the fire.
Police said it appears the fire was set intentionally at the vacant house. The fire then spread to the occupied house, which did not have smoke detectors, according to Lt. Crow.
Lt. Crow said that the Mansfield Fire Department has a smoke detector program to assist people who can't afford to buy or install smoke detectors.
The Richland Source shot photos at the scene of the fire, which show one home completely destroyed by fire, and another partly scorched. Both houses have a notice indicating that the fire is being investigated as an arson.
Witnesses reported to police that a group of juveniles, possibly teenagers, were seen in and around the vacant home prior to the fire.
The State of Ohio Fire Marshals, Mansfield Police Department, Richland County Coroner’s Office and Mansfield Fire Department are actively investigating the crime scene.
The Ohio Blue Ribbon Arson Committee is offering a reward, at their discretion, of up to $5,000 for information leading to identification of the person or persons responsible for the fire.
Anyone with information is asked to call Major Crimes Sergeant Matt Loughman at 419-755-9761 or Detective Rick Clapp at 419-755-9470.