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Dead Girl’s Mom Fears Daughter Started Fatal Fire

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Updated 03/13/14 – 10:47 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – The mother of a 3-year-old girl who died in a fire in Rogers Park on Wednesday said she believes her daughter got hold of a lighter, and accidentally set a mattress on fire.

Firefighters were handing out free smoke detectors to people who live near the apartment building in the 1700 block of West Juneway Terrace, where 3-year-old LeAndrea White was found dead on a bedroom floor Wednesday afternoon. The Fire Department said there were no working smoke detectors in the apartment.

CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports LeAndrea’s mother told firefighters her daughter was playing with a lighter, but Fire Department Spokesman Larry Langford said there’s no way to know right now who set a mattress on fire, or whether it was matches or a lighter.

Langford said LeAndrea has a twin, and both were in the room at the time of the fire.

The flames spread quickly, and LeAndrea’s family tried to use fire extinguishers to douse the flames, and even tried to toss the burning mattress out by breaking a window, but that only gave the fire more oxygen, and helped it get hotter and spread faster.

Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner Mark Nielsen said, when frantic residents told firefighters the girl was inside the burning apartment, they called additional personnel and launched an immediate search.

Within minutes, firefighters found LeAndrea on a bedroom floor, but they could not revive her.

“That bedroom was really consumed, got into the hallway a little bit, smoked up the other rooms in the apartment, but the amount of fire damage in the other rooms was moderate,” Nielsen said.

Three adults were injured in the fire, and were treated at Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston.

Nielsen said, had there been working smoke detectors in the apartment, everyone likely would have made it out safe.

“That’s the one piece of technology that has really changed fire deaths since I’ve been on the job,” he said. “Smoke detectors didn’t exist back then, and we had fire deaths in the 100s, typically, in the city. And now they’re down to single, double digits. Right now, it’s a single digit for the year, but any fire death is not acceptable, and that technology is an important piece, and I think people underestimate what it can do.”

Firefighters were going door-to-door Thursday morning at the four-story U-shaped apartment building, and to homes in a two-block radius around the building, to provide free smoke detectors for anyone who needs one.

The owners of the apartment building could be cited for failing to provide a working smoke detector for the unit, as required by city ordinance. Firefighters found smoke detectors in the common areas of the building, but they had no batteries.