Child, 3, dies in Joliet Township house fire
By Brian Stanley AND Tony Graf email@example.com May 17, 2012 3:44PM
Firefighters work at the scene of a fatal house fire in the 1300 block of Sterling Ave. Thursday, May 17, 2012, in Joliet Township. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 1, 2012 11:36AM
JOLIET TOWNSHIP — A 3-year-old child died in a house fire Thursday afternoon.
East Joliet Deputy Fire Chief Kirk Kelly said the blaze was reported at 1:15 p.m., and crews from East Joliet and Lockport Township were the first to arrive at 1354 Sterling Ave.
“They found heavy smoke showing from the second floor of the residence and initial reports (erroneously) said four people were trapped,” Kelly said. It appeared one woman who had been inside the house was able to escape the blaze as firefighters arrived.
Two women watching the activity from a nearby corner collapsed in sobs before one was taken to the hospital for emotional distress.
Kelly confirmed that the woman who was taken to the hospital was the victim’s mother.
“East Joliet and Lockport crews went upstairs immediately to search through the heavy flames, but despite their heroic efforts they found the victim was already deceased,” Kelly said.
“The bedroom door had burned halfway through as we got there and went all the way through the door as we were there,” Lockport Township Capt. Joe Casagrande said.
Kelly said the heavy fire was “very stubborn” and took about an hour for firefighters to extinguish.
The victim had not been identified by deputy Will County coroners who were called to remove the body after the state fire marshal investigated.
Crews from Elwood, Frankfort, Homer Township, Manhattan, New Lenox and Rockdale assisted at the scene.
Neighbor Timothy Casillas said he helped an occupant who was on the roof over the front door during the fire. Casillas grabbed hold of a ladder and directed the occupant to come down, he said.
Meanwhile, neighbor Cory Long said he went into the home twice — once with his brother-in-law Casillas — but the fire and smoke were too intense for him to reach the child.
Early Thursday afternoon, Casillas and Long were in the garage of Casillas’ home, just down the block from the site of the fire.
“We were in the garage at my house. We were just talking. And we started to walk into my yard a little bit, and that’s when I actually smelled the fire,” Casillas said.
At first, Casillas thought it was a bonfire.
“But when I looked over, I told him, ‘That doesn’t seem like bonfire smoke.’ We walked to the front of my house, just to make sure everything was OK with my house. When we got to the front yard, we looked over again, and we saw that the (nearby) house was on fire. That’s when we ran over there,” Casillas said.
At the burning home, Casillas saw a young man on the peak of the roof over the front door.
“I ran to him first to see why he was just sitting there,” Casillas said. “When I got to the side of the house, I saw that they had a ladder up to the front porch. But nobody was holding the ladder or anything, so I think he was scared to come down the ladder by himself.”
“So I grabbed the ladder and told him, ‘You’ve got to come down’ — because the smoke was rolling out of the window so bad that it was engulfing his whole face to where he couldn’t breathe,” Casillas said.
Casillas held the ladder, and the young man came down, he said.
While Casillas was helping the young man, Long was running into the burning house on his first attempt, Long said.
“I ran inside because another neighbor said there was a baby in the house,” Long said. “Me and the other neighbor went and tried to figure out where the baby was at.”
The two men came to believe the baby was upstairs, Long said. That’s when Long tried to ascend the stairs, he said.
“I went up to the top, had my face covered. I tried to go up, tried get in the door,” Long said. “The smoke was very thick. The flames were very hot. And it just kind of rushed me back downstairs.”
Casillas and Long met after the first attempt, Casillas said.
“Cory comes running out of the front door. He says, ‘We got to go up there, we got to see if we can get this baby,’” Casillas said.
“We both ran in the house. I ran up, and the upstairs was just engulfed with black smoke. You could hear the fire raging up there. I knew that there was no way we were going be able to get up there,” he said.
“It wasn’t just a little smoke where you might be able to see your way through. It was completely black,” he said.
Long said he grew up with the young man whom Casillas helped off the roof. Long and the man attended A.O. Marshall School together, and played basketball and baseball at Ridgewood Park.
“He’s a good kid, big heart. He’s respected around here,” Long said.
Mayolo Aguirre is an uncle of the young man whom Casillas helped, and of another resident of the home.
“They are good kids. I like coming over every weekend,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre said that in the past he played with the 3-year-old child who lived there.
On Thursday evening, a crowd of more than 50 people gathered at Sterling and Fairbanks avenues, looking on while authorities investigated. Sterling was closed between Fairbanks and Hebbard Street.
A nearby resident, who did not wish to be identified, said she was driving east on Sterling shortly after 1 p.m. when she saw the fire.
“We pulled up, and I saw a lot of smoke. There was a lot of smoke above the house,” she said.
She said she saw residents, police and firefighters responding to the blaze.