3-year-old girl dies in North Side blaze

Written By BY MITCH DUDEK AND JORDAN OWEN Staff Reporters Posted: 03/13/2014, 02:30am
Array Firemen begin cleaning up after responding to an alarm at 2:24 p.m. Wednesday on Juneway Terrace in Rogers Park. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

A 3-year-old girl died in a fire that she ignited while playing with matches or a lighter Wednesday afternoon in a Rogers Park apartment building, a social-service worker said.

LeAndrea White was playing in a bedroom at the family’s apartment on the 1700 block of West Juneway Terrace about 2:20 p.m. when a mattress caught fire, according to Schona Buranda, who works with a local service group and spoke on behalf of the family.

LeAndrea’s twin sister, who was with her in the bedroom, ran to alert the girls’ mother, who was asleep in another room, Buranda said.

The girl’s mother tried to throw the flaming mattress out of the fourth-floor window into the courtyard of the brick building, but ran to get help when she realized it wouldn’t fit through the window frame, Buranda said.

“The fire was made worse by the attempt to throw the mattress out the window. It’s a windy day today; the fire became more intense because it then had an unlimited source of air,” Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.

The mother ran for help, and by the time she returned, the smoke had increased. “She was looking for the kids, the baby that’s gone now, she couldn’t find her anywhere. . . . She says that the baby probably went to hide in a closet or somewhere,” Buranda said.

After the fire, the girl’s mother was is in “total distress,” Buranda said. “It’s unreal to her. She’s just about to lose her mind.”

When firefighters located the girl, she was dead, Langford said. The fire was confined to the bedroom and did not spread. Smoke detectors in the apartment and in the nearby hallway did not work, said Langford, who noted that fire investigators’ initial findings corroborated the family’s account of the girl using a lighter or matches to start the fire.

“She was a very bright kid, very smart and curious and active,” Buranda said.

LeAndrea loved playing with cellphones. Her mother had snapped a cellphone photo of the toddler just the night before and posted it to Instagram, said the girl’s aunt, Vaddie Weekly.

“She had a lot of energy,” Weekly said.

As family members grieved in freezing weather outside the building, they questioned the response time of firefighters, saying 15 minute elapsed before firefighters arrived and another 10 minutes passed before they went inside.

Langford disputed this.

“The Chicago Fire Department has never taken 15 minutes to arrive at a fire in modern history . . . 15 seconds after the call came into dispatch from a Sprint cellphone, bells were ringing in the fire house,” he said. Three minutes later, firefighters arrived and began going in the building and putting water on the fire, he said.

Langford said it was the responsibility of the landlord to maintain the smoke detectors in the hallway, and the responsibility of the renters to maintain the smoke detectors inside the apartment.

“The landlord could be cited for not keeping [the smoke detectors] in check,” Langford said. “It’s a sad thing. There were adults inside at the time, but they didn’t have as much warning as they could have had if a smoke detector had gone off in the next room and they would have heard it,” Langford said.

A man in his 30s and a woman in her 40s were taken to Presence Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston in stable condition after suffering smoke inhalation.

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