CHICAGO (AP) — Four children died when fire raced up a stairwell early Monday in an apartment building on Chicago's far South Side, trapping them in their bedrooms and forcing their mother and her boyfriend to leap from a third-story window, fire officials said.
The oldest girl, 15-year-old Carlisa Coleman, was found on top of one of the younger children in a closet, and "it appears she was trying to protect the younger child," Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said. The other two were found in a bedroom.
The other children were Carlvon Cark, 13, Shamaron Coleman, 11, and Erena Smith, 7, the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office said.
The fire began a little after 3 a.m. in a second-floor apartment in the 18-unit building in the Roseland neighborhood, sending dozens of residents fleeing into an alley with their children and pets. As they ran to the front of the building, some neighbors saw the woman and man leap from the window.
Darlene Jones, 31, who lived on the second floor, said her dog, Toto, woke her with incessant barking. She said she opened her front door and could see smoke and flames in the apartment across the hallway.
She said she slammed her door and ran out the back stairwell with her 12-year-old daughter, first running up to the third floor to pound on the family's door.
She said she could hear the woman inside screaming, "It's in the hall! It's in the hall! It's in the hall!" She said she wondered how they would escape because their back door had been stuck shut for at least the past year. Langford said the fire appeared to have blocked the family's escape from either door.
By the time Jones got to the front of the building, the third floor was consumed by fire. She saw the man and woman on the ground, but no children.
"I knew those kids were gone," Jones said.
The adults were taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in nearby Oak Lawn; hospital officials would not reveal their conditions.
Langford said smoke detectors in common areas were working but there was no evidence of working smoke detectors in the affected units.
He said it appears the fire raced up the inside stairwell to the third floor and into the apartment through an open front door.
City records indicate that the apartment building had failed almost two dozen inspections in the past nine years, including recent citations for not having working smoke detectors in every unit and for broken doors and windows, rickety stairwells and mold.
The company that has managed the building since July, J&J Real Estate Management, would not comment pending an investigation.
Jones, who said she and the family upstairs had lived there about a year, said she complained many times about building problems, including that the front door in the apartment where the fire started did not close. She said that apartment was occupied only occasionally, and Langford said it did not appear that anyone was there Monday.
Jones said her daughter, who played with the children upstairs, "broke down real bad."