CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago firefighters returned to the Little Village neighborhood Monday morning to deliver a message about fire safety, a day after the city’s deadliest fire in more than a decade. Eight children were killed when flames swept through a home in the 2200 block of South Sacramento Avenue early Sunday.
Two teenagers also were injured, and were in critical condition Sunday night at Stroger Hospital. Officials said the home didn’t have working smoke detectors.
“We don’t even know what to say. This is a tragedy beyond anything I ever dreamed of in my life,” said Ramonita Reyes, who lost several grandchildren in the fire. “This family’s going to need a lot of love, and a lot of support, and a lot of help.”
A memorial of crosses, candles, balloons, and stuffed animals continued to grow Monday morning outside the burned-out home where the children died. Neighbors also have been stopping by all morning to show their support.
“We’re here to support all these families. They’re not by themselves. You know, God is with them, and they’re not going to be by themselves,” neighbor Rosa Lazaro said. “All the community, everybody’s here to help all these families.”
A group of firefighters went door-to-door for about three blocks Monday morning near the apartment building where the children died, passing out fire safety information and free smoke detectors to families in need. They also offered to install smoke detectors for the elderly for free. Anyone who needs a smoke detector also can call their alderman to pick one up.
“When we lose one life, it’s too many lives if we lose somebody in a fire. So today it’s even more critical, because we lost eight people to a fire, and that’s unheard of in the city of Chicago,” Fire Department First Deputy District Chief Annette Nance Holt said. “I can’t even count back to when we lost this many lives.”
Firefighters said the blaze started around 4 a.m. Sunday on the enclosed rear porch of an apartment building on the 2200 block of South Sacramento Avenue. There were no working smoke detectors in the area where the victims were found.
Relatives said the children who died were having a sleepover. They ranged in age from 3 months to 16 years, according to their families.
Most of the victims were from the same family.
“It’s my worst nightmare. I don’t know how I’m going to wake up and continue life, knowing that my brothers and sisters are six feet underground,” Marcos Contreras said.
The oldest victim, 16-year-old Victor Mendoza, was visiting his friends for a sleepover. His mother said he was a good student.
The youngest victim, Amaya Almaraz, was only 3 months old.
Also killed were 5-year-old Ariel Garcia, 11-year-old Xavier Contreras, 13-year-old Nathan Contreras, 3-year-old Alanni Ayala, 5-year-old Gialanni Ayala, and 10-year-old Giovanni Ayala.
The two teenagers who were critically injured are 14-year-old Cesar Contreras, and 14-year-old Adrian Hernandez.
“We have not had this in many, many years; this amount of fatalities and injuries in one location,” Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said.
Enlace Chicago, a Little Village neighborhood organization, has set up a GoFundMe account on the family’s behalf, to help pay for funeral and burial costs. Enlace also is accepting clothing donations for those left homeless as a result of the fire. Clothes can be dropped off at either of two locations: 2329 S. Troy St., or 2756 S. Harding Av.