Updated 01/09/14 – 6:22 p.m.
HAMMOND, Ind. (CBS) — A 28-year-old father who suffered severe burns in a fire at his house in Hammond overnight managed to save two of his children, but he couldn’t reach three others who perished in the blaze.
Andre Young suffered third-degree burns over 20 percent of his body after a fire broke out in the living room of the Young family apartment in the 600 block of Sibley Street around 10:15 p.m.
Upstairs neighbors Jasmin Rice and Cornelius Brown said they saw smoke coming up from the walls of the two-story frame building, and immediately grabbed their three children and escaped. They saw Andre Young try to get back into the burning apartment after rescuing two of his children — 6-year-old and 2-year-old boys. Those two children are expected to be released from the hospital later Thursday.
Rice said Andre Young ran out of the home, with his back covered in flames, and threw himself in the snow to put out the fire.
“I just heard him screaming, ‘My babies! My babies!’ and I heard him going in, trying to get in the house to get to the babies,” she said.
Robinson said he tried to save the Young children by kicking in the front door.
“When I got the door open, the flames came. The flame was so intense, that it just basically rushed out on me,”
Hammond Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Margraf said crews also initially had trouble getting inside the home.
“We had to take the door off its hinges to actually get through the front door. Once we removed the door, we were able to see that there was some furniture that was backed up against it, which prevented us from trying to swing the door open,” he said.
Once inside, they found the bodies of three children in the living room. The Lake County Coroner’s office identified the dead children as 4-year-old Dasani Young, his 3-year-old sister Alexia Young, and their 7-month old brother Jayden Young.
It took crews 2 ½ hours to put out the flames, as they worked from a defensive position.
The surviving children suffered smoke inhalation, and one had minor burns to his ear. Their father suffered third-degree burns over 20 percent of his body.
Rice said she’s praying for her neighbors.
“It just really hurt my soul, because I was able to meet those kids for a little while. My kids were able to play with them,” she said. “Our babies are only like a couple months apart.”
Margraf said the fire might have been caused by space heaters being too close to a mattress and bags of clothes found near the heaters in the living room.
“We’re leaning that way, but officially it’s undetermined at this point,” he said.
Margraf said it was a tough morning for firefighters.
“This is a situation that will stick with them, and last with them for a while. We will follow up with their chief officers that were out here today, and we will have them ask the guys, ‘Hey, how are you guys doing? Do you guys need to speak to somebody? … If you’re being bothered by something, let us know. We will provide that care for you,’” he said.
NIPSCO said utilities were turned off at the Youngs’ apartment in the spring for lack of payment. Neighbors said The Youngs recently were seen taking kerosene or propane heaters into the house. Inside the home, investigators found a propane-powered heater, a kerosene heater and an electric heater. The propane heater had a large tank attached to it, instead of the standard smaller tank.
Rice and Robinson, who still had their utilities, said both units recently lost water because of frozen pipes.
“We couldn’t leave the water running, otherwise the water would continue to run in one of their bedrooms,” Rice said.
Neighbor Timothy Stringfield said he’ll never forget watching firefighters bring out the bodies of the three dead children, covered in blankets.
“Now they’re gone. Their dad is fighting for life now,” he said.
The father and the two children who survived were taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County in critical condition. The children’s conditions have stabilized and they are expected to survive, but their father remained in critical condition.
The children’s mother and a sixth child were not at home at the time of the fire, but were at their family’s side at Stroger Hospital on Thursday.