Fire that killed baby, toddler started by accident, investigators say

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CHICAGO -  A fast-moving house fire that killed a baby girl and a toddler on the city's South Side is being declared an accident by investigators.

Firefighters believe the family was using a stove to heat the basement apartment of a two-story building in the 6600 block of S. Champlain in West Woodlawn.

When a fire broke out around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, 7-month-old Ziya Grace and her 2-year-old sister Jamaii Grace became trapped and were killed.

A 6-year-old boy was rescued by firefighters and is now fighting for his life at Comer Children's Hospital. He is severely burned over his entire body and will require a lot of surgery.

Neighbors say after the fire broke out, they ran outside when they heard screaming. Some tried to run inside to rescue the children, but the fire was spreading too quickly.

"By the time I got to the corner, two of the guys had already ran in there. They said the flames were so thick there was nothing they could do," said Taneisha Grayson.

For neighbor Stephaine Hall Smith, the cries of desperation are haunting. She lives across the street from the three unit building where the fire broke out. The mother of one of the children trapped inside was calling for Stephanie’s husband, Rodney, to come help.

“I heard her hollering and screaming. Hollering and screaming. And she just stood right there. Rodney! Rodney! My baby, please save my baby!” Smith said.

“I went to the basement, the basement door and the black smoke was just rolling out. And I see the flames,” Rodney Smith said. He couldn't get inside.

Neighbors say the mother of two of those children went back inside to attempt to save them, but couldn't reach the back room where they were believed to be.

Once firefighters arrived, they managed to get inside and rescue a young boy, who was taken to Comer Children's Hospital in critical condition. Firefighters found the baby and toddler dead in the basement.

“I’m hurting for them,” Rodney Smith said.

Firefighters say two women, ages 48 and 25 made it out of the building on their own and were taken to the hospital.
According to neighbors, the elder woman was the grandmother of all three children, and the younger was the mother of the two young girls killed in the fire.

A 25-year-old woman also took herself to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. A firefighter was also hospitalized after the rescue effort. He is expected to be okay.

Investigators confirmed the fire appeared to have started in the kitchen, and said there were no smoke detectors in the basement unit. According to neighbors, the family shared the building with other relatives, one of which who owns this building.

"A lot of credit has to go to these fire companies. They went in there under very heavy fire conditions," said Chicago Fire Dept. Deputy District Chief Mike Carbone.

It took firefighters about 20 minutes to put the fire out.