Chicago fire officials on Thursday were still trying to pin down the cause of last weekend’s Little Village inferno, but they’ve said there were no signs that any of the 10 children killed tried to escape — a fate not uncommon to victims of overnight residential fires, experts say.
“The smoke will overcome a person and knock them further unconscious,” Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said. “It’s not unusual at all to not wake up.”
Some of the kids, who ranged in age from 3 months to 16 years old, were at the house on the back of the lot at 2224 S. Sacramento for a sleepover, authorities have said.
Carbon monoxide and the cocktail of other chemicals in house-fire smoke can cut off oxygen to the brain in just a few minutes, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Fumes typically spread to bedrooms more quickly than intense flames do, lulling victims into a deeper sleep and eventually unconsciousness, unless some sort of stimulus — like a smoke detector — can jolt them to action.
Officials said Wednesday that a smoke detector was found at the Sacramento scene, but it didn’t have a functional battery.
The smell of a fire typically isn’t enough to rouse a person from sleep, as a 2004 Brown University study suggested, and by the time the heat, roar and glare of flames are within reach, it’s usually too late.
The national Fire Administration report found that about half of the nation’s fire fatalities from 2013 to 2015 occurred in bedrooms during sleeping hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. About a third of the victims were asleep when they were killed.
The timeframe with the highest percentage of fatalities? Between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., the report found. The Little Village disaster sparked about 4 a.m., officials said.
Nearly 60 percent of fire deaths happen in homes without a working smoke detector, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
“They had a clear path out if a smoke detector had woken someone up,” Langford said. “This could have been a different situation.”