Fire started at the unit’s only exit
Paige Fry, Chicago Tribune
The Des Plaines Fire Department is investigating a space heater as the possible cause of a fire that killed four young girls and their mother Wednesday morning as the department also found the family was likely trapped because the fire started at their unit’s only exit and there were no smoke detectors on their floor, officials said.
FirefighterNation: Four Children, One Adult Dead in Des Plaines House Fire
The building had a long history of property maintenance code enforcement violations, the city also said in a news release.
The fire started about 10:15 a.m. Wednesday in a two-story frame apartment building at 714 W. Oakton St. in the northwest suburb. Preliminary investigation showed that the fire started at the top of the stairs into a second-floor unit, which is the only entry and exit to the unit, the fire department wrote in a release Thursday. There were no smoke detectors on the second floor, where the family was found, officials said.
Renata Espinosa, 6, Genesis Espinosa, 5, Allizon Espinosa, 3, Grace Espinosa, 1, and Cithaly Zamiodo, 25, died in the fire, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office and fire officials. Zamiodo was the mother of the girls, according to Jennie Vana, a Des Plaines spokeswoman.
The investigation will include an “engineering analysis” to determine if and how the heater started the fire, the fire department said in the release. No foul play or anything suspicious is suspected at this point.
The building is owned by Manuel Espinoza, and it has a history of property maintenance code enforcement violations after resident and neighbor complaints, the release said. Espinoza’s relationship to Zamiodo and her children wasn’t immediately clear.
Some of the violations included illegal burning, unregistered vehicles and debris. There is an active code enforcement case pending.
The building is 104 years and was annexed into the city in 1973, the release said. At that time, it was already divided into multifamily units, so it was “grandfathered” in and allowed under city ordinance. The building was also registered with the city as a rental property.
FireRescue Magazine: Building Construction: Duplexes
The city issued a violation notice to the property owner for operating a landscaping business, which is not permitted in the zoning district, the release said. The city does not have any building code violations pending related to the construction and occupancy of the building. The city had also not received complaints about any potential violations in the interior of the property.
The property was last inspected in 2018, which was required for a resale, the release said. It had met all inspection requirements at the time, including the required number of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
The fire department is working with the State Fire Marshal and a regional task force under the city’s mutual aid system to investigate the fire, the release said.
“It is a sad day,” Des Plaines Fire Chief Daniel Anderson said at a news conference at the scene early Wednesday afternoon. “This is a terrible day … a tragic day.”
Pabel Marrero, 52, a resident of the building who was in bed Wednesday morning when he smelled smoke, said the house is divided into several apartments; he lives on the first floor, and the family members who died lived in an upstairs apartment.
Police arrived at the scene quickly, he recalled, but authorities initially struggled to get to the upstairs apartment because the door leading to it was locked. Fire personnel arrived shortly after, Marrero said.
Neighbor Yein Espinosa, 17, identified himself as an uncle of the girls who died in the fire.
“They were great kids,” he said. “It’s unbelievable what happened.”
His brother Juan Espinosa, the father of the girls, was at work at the time of the fire, Yein Espinosa said.
“It all passed so quickly, I was shocked,” he said.
At the “very hectic, rapidly evolving” scene, there was “heavy smoke coming from the second floor,” Anderson said. Firefighters learned there were people still inside the building. Although the frame building, which is more than 100 years old, appears to be a single-family home from the outside, Cook County records show it has four apartments.
Crews “immediately went into search-and-rescue” and fire suppression mode, Anderson said.
Marrero said he had just heard the children upstairs earlier in the morning.
“I heard kids running upstairs, but that’s not out of the ordinary,” he said. “That’s what you hear every day, they’re kids.” He described them as “happy kids” who spent the summer and fall playing outside in the backyard with dolls and building forts.
The children were pronounced dead at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, while their mother was pronounced dead at the scene.
One firefighter and one police officer suffered minor injuries and were checked at local hospitals.
(c)2021 the Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.