Frederiksted fire that injured six children started by a cigarette
Published: September 17, 2013
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ST. CROIX - Fire Service officials have concluded that the early morning fire last month inside a Frederiksted apartment that left six children injured and a family homeless was the result of an accident.
St. Croix Fire Marshal Clifford Joseph said Monday that after several weeks of investigation and site visits at the Fritz Lawaetz housing community, investigators have determined that the Aug. 17 fire was a result of unattended smoking paraphernalia inside the apartment.
"As a result of our investigations, we determined that someone left a cigarette of some sort, burning unattended and it caught the furniture on fire and spread through the house," he said.
Joseph said the fire began in the living room of the house, but because the sliding glass door had been left open, the fire was receiving fresh oxygen and spread quickly through the home.
"We saw that the door was left ajar, something the tenant and an associate said was common so they could get fresh breezes in the house," he said. "So we looked at that and the manner in which the fire spread and other evidence found at the scene to determine the cause."
Shortly after the fire last month, St. Croix Fire Chief Angel Torres said that firefighters were called about 3 a.m. to the report of the fire in one of the units of the apartment complex on Queen and Market Streets.
He said four units from the Queen Street fire station - two blocks away - and from the Estate Grove Place fire station, responded to the blaze.
When firefighters arrived, they found smoke and flames coming from a second floor apartment and six children - ages 4 to 14 - who had been rescued from the burning apartment, Torres said.
Investigators began to interview eyewitnesses and residents of the housing community, who explained that when the blaze first began inside the home, the 14-year-old boy ran from the home, leaving the five other children inside, according to Torres.
An 11-year-old girl jumped up and ran from the home with a 4-year-old and 5-year-old in tow, and residents who were in the area saw the fire and ran to assist, according to Torres.
Torres said a number of men who were in the area helped the children escape the blaze by creating a human ladder up to the second floor apartment window to rescue a 6-year-old boy, Torres said.
With one child still left inside the burning apartment, another man ran into the burning apartment and rescued a 5-year-old boy who, by then, had been almost overcome by smoke inhalation, according to Torres.
The fire was classified by emergency dispatchers as a structural fire and a case of child neglect.
Joseph said Monday that the fire department had done its part in determining the cause of the fire, but he did not know the status of the investigation by police.
V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said Monday that she did not have any additional information about the incident but that the investigation was ongoing.
As of press time Monday, no arrests had been made.
Following the fire, Rames had reported that all of the children had suffered burns or smoke inhalation and were treated at Luis Hospital. The one 5-year-old who was last to be rescued from the building had burns on 15 to 20 percent of his body and was flown to an off-island hospital for treatment at that time.
The children were from two different families and none of the parents were at home at the time of the fire and had told investigators that they had only stepped out for a minute to purchase cigarettes, according to Joseph.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.