Weeks before fire killed 2 children, complaint about lack of heat filed

Seven weeks before a fire killed an infant and a toddler trapped inside a West Woodlawn home where the stove was on for warmth, city inspectors received a complaint about "a lack of heat at this address" and visited the building, a spokeswoman for...

Weeks before fire killed 2 children, complaint about lack of heat filed

Seven weeks before a fire killed an infant and a toddler trapped inside a West Woodlawn home where the stove was on for warmth, city inspectors received a complaint about "a lack of heat at this address" and visited the building, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Buildings said Monday.

The complaint was filed Jan. 5, but no one was home the next day when the Department of Buildings visited the home on the 6600 block of South Champlain Avenue.

"A large orange sticker was left behind telling the owner to contact the Department of Buildings for an inspection," spokeswoman Mimi Simon said in an emailed statement. "We have no record of receiving a call for inspection."

The Chicago Fire Department on Monday said it identified the kitchen stove in the basement as the cause and origin of the Saturday fire, which had all burners on and set other flammable items ablaze. The fire killed two young girls sleeping in their beds — Ziya Grace, 7 months, and her older sister Samari Grace, 2 — and left a 6-year-old boy hospitalized with severe burns to 70 percent of his body.

The girls' mother and grandmother, who were in the graystone, were treated for smoke inhalation at the University of Chicago Medicine's burn unit. A third woman was also treated for fire-related injuries.

Fire officials and the Department of Buildings said there were no working smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors in the home. The building, which fire officials estimated dates to 1875, didn't have a radiator or other source of heat in the basement where people appeared to reside, according to Larry Langford, spokesman for the fire department. A central heating system that used hot water was removed from the building several years ago and not restored.

Family devastated by deaths of 2 young relatives in fire Megan Crepeau and Grace Wong

Jimmie Hampton was at work at Midway Airport when he got a call that the West Woodlawn building he owned was on fire, trapping his sister, his two nieces and their young children inside the basement.

As he sped toward them on the expressway, he could see the lights from the firetrucks and police...

Jimmie Hampton was at work at Midway Airport when he got a call that the West Woodlawn building he owned was on fire, trapping his sister, his two nieces and their young children inside the basement.

As he sped toward them on the expressway, he could see the lights from the firetrucks and police...

(Megan Crepeau and Grace Wong)

"If the smoke detector had been placed where it's supposed to be per ordinance, which would have been outside the bedroom door, it would have gone off in enough time that they could have probably walked out of the apartment," Langford said.

The situation could become complicated if it reaches court because it's not clear whether people staying at the home were leasing the units or living there as guests, Langford said. One city ordinance requires temperatures inside rentals to be between at least 66 and 68 degrees at all times. Another requires a landlord to provide at least one smoke detector in each unit and tenants to maintain a battery in each one. It's unclear how those ordinances would be applied if this wasn't a typical landlord-renter scenario, Langford said.

Jimmie Hampton, a man who identified himself as a relative of the injured, previously told the Chicago Tribune he owned the building. Hampton, 59, who lives on the first floor of the three-story structure, said someone was boiling water on the stove for vapor before flames erupted. He did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

7-month-old, 2-year-old dead in West Woodlawn fire; 6-year-old critically injured Megan Crepeau

A "fast-spreading" fire in a West Woodlawn basement Saturday left a 7-month-old girl and a 2-year-old girl dead, a 6-year-old boy critically hurt and three others injured, including a Chicago firefighter.

The blaze began in the basement of a graystone in the 6600 block of South Champlain Avenue,...

A "fast-spreading" fire in a West Woodlawn basement Saturday left a 7-month-old girl and a 2-year-old girl dead, a 6-year-old boy critically hurt and three others injured, including a Chicago firefighter.

The blaze began in the basement of a graystone in the 6600 block of South Champlain Avenue,...

(Megan Crepeau)

At a news conference outside the boarded-up home, District Fire Chief Dan Cunningham said a gas line to the stove ruptured during the night, fueling the fire even more. There may also have been space heaters in the basement, though the thick debris made it hard to tell, officials said.

Four engines and more than 50 firefighters battled the blaze Saturday night, Cunningham said. Crews arrived within less than three minutes after the initial 911 call knowing that people were stranded inside. One firefighter was injured while responding and has been released after being treated at an area hospital.

"Upon their arrival it was very chaotic. People were screaming that there were children in the basement, and the first arriving companies initiated an aggressive interior attack on the fire," Cunningham said. "The first company through the front door — the basement door — did hear a voice and the captain of that company was able to get to that child very quickly."

The rescued 6-year-old was in the main room of the basement. The room where the two girls were found sharing a bed was adjacent to the kitchen, investigators said.

The basement door, once white, is now stained a charcoal black at the top and leads into a gray mass of rubble inside the ashy basement. The Department of Buildings boarded up the windows Sunday, Simon said. City attorneys will request a demolition order from a judge, she said.

Department records do not indicate who made the complaint about heat or if the person was a tenant.

There is no department policy for following up with inspections that are requested but not conducted because no one is home. Typically, tenants call back if the heat remains a problem, officials said.

Adorned with heart-shaped balloons, stuffed animals and flowers, a tree rooted in front of the home acted as a makeshift memorial for the victims. A man who worked at the laundromat across the street, which the family frequented, dropped off a teddy bear wearing a University of Chicago T-shirt and a toy leopard.

"My condolences go to the family, said laundromat worker Ronald Crawford, 61, who said he'd seen the children at the store. "You hate to see something like this happen, no matter who it is."

echerney@chicagotribune.com

Twitter: @Echerney

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