Ten children dead.
Chicago’s deadliest house fire in decades is a horrific, almost unspeakable tragedy.
The families and friends of the victims are undoubtedly devastated. They will live with the pain for years to come.
The neighborhood of Little Village is grieving, too. Look no further than the memorial site on South Sacramento Avenue, overflowing with flowers, candles and small white crosses. Listen to residents like Michelle Salazar, who told the Sun-Times she saw two of the children almost every day and gave them countless $1 bills because they were “so cute.”
A 3-month-old, among those killed in the predawn fire Sunday, will never take her first step, speak her first word, head off to her first day of kindergarten. The children and teens won’t dress up for Halloween trick-or-treating or play soccer in the park with friends. They will never party in a college dorm or grow up to have kids of their own.
Imagine, too, being one of the firefighters. “It’s tough for us too, as first responders, to pull young people out of buildings,” Deputy District Chief Annette Nance-Holt said.
How did this happen?
The answers will come, as Chicago Fire Department officials — with assistance from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms — pursue their investigation. Until then, anything that anybody might say is pure speculation.
The building in which the fire broke out was deemed “livable” by the city, but it had a long paper trail of electrical and other building code violations. The alderman’s office reportedly tried “for years” to get the violations all fixed. The first floor was boarded up. The landlord is due in court next month because of a city inspection in June prompted by tenant complaints.
Red flags? Certainly. But nobody can say yet whether building code violations were a factor in the fire.
Investigators also found “smoking materials and bottle rockets” on the back porch, where the fire started. Another red flag? Yep. But, again, investigators have yet to determine whether smoking or fireworks were to blame.
Ten children are dead. But who are the adults who failed them? State child-welfare officials are investigating whether some of their own family members might have let them down.
City officials say they know only one thing for sure right now: The children may well have made it out alive if the building had working smoke detectors in place. The landlord’s lawyer insists he put smoke alarms in.
“From what we could see, they would have had a clear path out if they had been alerted early enough,” fire department spokesman Larry Langford said.
It didn’t happen.
Ten children were asleep in a two-bedroom apartment. Now they’re all gone.
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