Neighbors were integral in rescuing children from burning apartment
Published: August 20, 2013
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ST. CROIX - Police and fire officials are continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding an early morning fire inside a Frederiksted apartment that left six children injured and a family homeless.
St. Croix Fire Chief Angel Torres said that firefighters received notification via the emergency dispatch center just before 3 a.m. Saturday of a fire in one of the units of the Fritz E. Lawaetz Apartment Complex on Queen and Market streets.
He said four units combined from the Queen Street 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 who had been rescued from the burning apartment, Torres said.
Firefighters made a sweep of the apartment to ensure that no one else was trapped inside and proceeded to contain and subsequently extinguished the fire within minutes, according to Torres.
Investigators began to interview eyewitnesses and residents of the housing community who explained how the ordeal played out for the children, who are between the ages of 4 and 14 years old, Torres said.
Based on the witness accounts, when the blaze first began inside the home, the 14-year-old boy jumped up and ran from the home, leaving the five other children inside, according to Torres.
An 11-year-old girl subsequently 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 then began to notice 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.
Juvanni Roach was nearby and saw the fire and screamed out to neighbors, alerting them and desperately asking for help, according to the chief.
Gary Hendrickson heard the commotion along with an unidentified man and they, along with the 14-year-old boy, who initially ran from the burning apartment, climbed on each others shoulders to create a human ladder up to the second floor apartment window to rescue a 6-year-old boy, Torres said.
"The 14-year-old boy was on top, and he used a hammer to break the louvers open, while standing on the shoulders of one of the men," Torres said. "He pulled the younger victim through the window, eased him down to one of the men who caught him down below."
Ray Fox gathered the injured and scared children in one location and consoled them until the authorities came, according to Torres.
With one child still left inside the burning apartment, Torres said Wellington Pennyfeather 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 men, the 11-year-old girl and the 14-year-old boy "are all heroes in my eyes and should be commended for their bravery and their unselfish and heroic acts that saved the lives of those other children," Torres said.
Torres said Monday the investigation by his Arson Investigation and Fire Prevention Unit is ongoing and a separate investigation is being conducted by the Criminal Investigation Bureau of the V.I. Police Department as to whether any criminal acts could be related to the fire.
The fire was classified by emergency dispatchers as a structural fire and a case of child neglect.
Police Spokeswoman Melody Rames said Monday that no additional information was available as a result of the ongoing investigation.
During the weekend Rames, said all of the children had suffered either minor 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 had been flown to an off-island hospital for treatment where he remains, Rames said.
The children were from two different families and none of the parents were at home at the time of the fire.
As of press time Monday, Rames said the investigation still is ongoing and no arrests have been made.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.