Terrified children leap from 2nd floor of burning house in Detroit, 3 more die within

By Corey Williams, AP
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

3 kids die, 2 injured in Detroit house fire

DETROIT — Piercing screams drowned out the snap and pop of burning wood and exploding glass as the blaze raced through the rickety wooden house on Detroit’s west side.

Somewhere inside cowered three children, ages 3, 4 and 5. They each would die in the blaze.

Three older children — cornered by heat, flames and a black curtain of toxic smoke — crowded against second-floor windows before dropping a 3-month-old to neighbors.

They “were in the window screaming and hollering. We were telling them to jump, but they wouldn’t jump,” said 18-year-old Jarmar Taylor, standing Wednesday outside the charred and blackened husk of the two-story house on Bangor Street.

Taylor said he and a friend noticed the flames about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday and raced across the street where they were joined by others from the neighborhood. They first tried to kick in the front door. When that wouldn’t budge, Taylor tried the back, but there “was too much smoke and fire,” he said.

Forming a circle out front, they finally coaxed the children to jump. “That was the only way they were going to come out,” he said.

The 3-month-old girl and an 8-year-old boy were being treated at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. The 8-year-old, and two older boys, ages 12 and 9, jumped to safety. The older boys did not go to a hospital.

Authorities were performing autopsies Wednesday.

Police spokesman John Roach said officials were investigating if the children — whose names have yet to be released — had been left home alone. He said police were questioning their mother and that the cause of the fire was under investigation.

Police spokeswoman Sgt. Eren Stephens said police records identified the mother as 30-year-old Sylvia Young.

Young told WDIV-TV that a handyman had given her a space heater and that she had been out trying to find more when the fire started.

“I didn’t know I was leaving my children in danger or I would never have left,” she said.

The local power company said Wednesday that it had shut off illegal gas and electricity service to the house earlier Tuesday after an employee on rounds noticed meter locks had been cut.

DTE Energy originally cut off power on Dec. 11 at the request of a customer who was moving out, and there had been no new request for it to be turned back on, spokesman Scott Simons said.

Such tragedies occur too often in Detroit where many families are struggling with finances, job losses and paying the bills. A Jan. 5 fire claimed three lives in a house where illegally accessed electricity was used to power space heaters.

Energy theft cost DTE and its customers about $100 million last year, according to the utility, which reported 221,000 gas and electric shutoffs statewide in 2009.

A tearful Sewilla Wilson said her daughter spotted the flames from their home on Bangor Street.

“I said, ‘Where are the babies?’ I knew they had babies. I saw somebody jump out the window and I saw the baby,” said Wilson, who took the 3-month-old into her home and wrapped the child in a blanket until firefighters arrived.

“I had the baby and she was trying to go to sleep,” she said. “I wanted to keep her awake. As long as she was crying I knew she was all right.”

Wilson was not sure how many children and adults lived in the house, but said they moved there in early January. They were just starting to settle into the neighborhood.

“My boys had a snowball fight Saturday with the little boys,” she said.

A makeshift memorial of three candles and stuffed toys adorned the concrete front steps of the burned house.

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