Eight people were killed in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood Sunday morning — including at least six children — in what officials said was the deadliest city fire in a decade.
A teenager and a young adult also were taken to hospitals in very critical condition, and a firefighter was hospitalized in good condition, fire officials said.
Marcos Contreras, 15, said the fire struck a home where a group of his siblings and cousins were having a sleepover. Early in the morning, he said, his sister woke him up and they ran outside to the blazing house.
“By the time we got here, the whole house was on fire,” he said. “They were taking out my cousins and my brothers.
“I don’t even got words to explain the pain I’m feeling right now,” Contreras said. “It just feels like my whole world is crashing.”
“Our family went through a tragedy today,” said Ramonita Reyes. “We lost several grandchildren, I’ve lost several grandchildren, Marcos has lost several brothers and sisters, friends, cousins, and we don’t even know what to say. This was a tragedy. Not anything I ever dreamed of.”
She said the family was “always together.”
“That’s why we never have family reunions — because we had them every day,” Contreras said. “We stuck together like glue. Nothing could separate us.”
Earlier Sunday morning, a large crowd gathered outside Mount Sinai Hospital, where some of the victims were taken. Those in the crowd were quiet and pacing until they received word of the fatalities.
The family and friends gripped each other and cried. A little boy crouched on the ground and buried his head in his hands. A woman staggered and grabbed the cement wall of the hospital for support.
“I can’t live without my babies,” a woman cried.
Hours later, it was still unclear how the fire started. Nearby, men cried, women held onto the hands of children and neighbors watched from across the street as Jessie Cobos said he was close to three of the children who died in the fire.
“We’re asking God to protect us, and he’ll heal our hearts,” Cobos said. “We’ve got to love each other today because tomorrow is not promised.”
The Rev. Clifford Spears of St. Michael Missionary Baptist Church led the crowd in a prayer as candles were lit and lined up along the sidewalk. A man hammered a wooden cross into the ground. Written in marker on its center board were six names: Giovanni, Gialanni, Alanni, Ariel, Xavier and Cesar. The name Victor was added later.
Cobos said he was a caretaker of Giovanni, 10, Gialanni, 5, and Alanni, 3.
“I got a phone call stating that there was a fire on this block and the pastor wanted me to come pray for the family,” he said. “I never knew I was going to come pray for my own kids.”
Firefighters were called just before 4 a.m. to the blaze that enveloped at least two buildings. Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt said investigators had not found working smoke detectors.
As of Sunday afternoon, fire officials determined the fire started in an enclosed porch at the back of the rear building, according to spokeswoman Larry Langford.
Fire officials were still working to determine the cause of the fire, aided by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Langford said.
He said the fire was the deadliest in Chicago in more than a decade, but it could have been avoided if smoke detectors had been in use.
“It was not hard to get out. The fire started in the rear, and the entryway to the front was wide open,” Langford said. “Had they been awake or if someone had woken them, they would have gotten out.”
At an unrelated event Sunday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised firefighters’ response. “There’s a horrific loss of life. We haven’t seen this in a long time in the city of Chicago,” he said.
After the fire was extinguished, residents who were evacuated stood on the corner, watching as crews doused sparks of flame. Red crime scene tape blocked off Sacramento. A woman who lives nearby saw seven people wheeled out of the buildings on stretchers. Several were covered, she said.
© 2018 Chicago Tribune
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