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Space heater blamed for St. Louis fire that killed 3 children

Space heater blamed for St. Louis fire that killed 3 children

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ST. LOUIS • Three children died Sunday, over the coldest night of the season, in a house fire in the Walnut Park East neighborhood that authorities believe started with a space heater. The dead were two girls, 4 and 6, and a boy, 10 months old, officials said.

Viances Hutcherson Sr., 50, who was the father of the boy and uncle of the girls, was in Barnes-Jewish Hospital with injuries suffered in a rescue attempt, according to his son, Viances Hutcherson Jr., 16.

Capt. Gregg Favre of the St. Louis Fire Department said there were no working smoke detectors in the dwelling, in the 4900 block of Plover Avenue, and that arriving firefighters encountered heavy fire on both levels. A neighbor called in the alarm about 4:16 a.m., and said children were trapped, Favre said.

Firefighters found the 10-month-old still alive, and handed him off to paramedics, Favre said, but did not reach the girls until later. The boy died at a hospital; the girls died at the scene.

Favre said the father was hospitalized in serious condition, with burns and smoke inhalation.

The blaze appeared to have begun with a space heater, he said, noting, “We have no reason to believe that it was anything but an accident.”

Viances Hutcherson Jr. said the gas was off and the family was using an electric oven and several space heaters to warm the small, 1½-story house. A cold front had dropped the temperature to 25 degrees overnight, about 10 degrees colder than usual for the date.

The girls had been sleeping on a couch in the first-floor front room and were trapped, the teen said, and the baby was sleeping in a crib in a room on the same level with his parents, who escaped. He said he had been sleeping upstairs in a room with four other brothers and that they got out unhurt by going through a window and sliding off the roof. He said he has another brother who was not at home.

The whole family suffers from asthma, he said, which may have worsened with the effects of heavy smoke through the dwelling. He is a sophomore at Soldan International Studies High School.

The teen said the family had just enjoyed a dinner together at a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant on Saturday night. He said his father is disabled with a shoulder injury and his mother works temporary jobs.

At some point, he said, he woke up to use the bathroom, saw his cousins asleep on the couch and kissed them each on the cheek. He said he went back to bed and dozed off, but not for long, before he heard screaming and found a house full of dense smoke.

He said his mother, Sarah Williams, and the brothers upstairs with him — Arrak, 14; Marquise, 13; Kneely, 11; and Ameir, 7 — were not hurt. He identified the brother who died as Sevon Hutcherson, and said the cousins who died were Antonasia Odom Williams, 4, and Aniya Calvin, 6.

“My brothers needed me and I did the best I could,” he said, with tears in his eyes.

“I made sure they were safe and tried to go back for the rest of them and didn’t make it in time.”

Aniya Calvin’s grandmother, Kamesha Williams, 40, said the house was not insured and the family has no money to cover burials, medical bills, loss of possessions, a new place to live or counseling for the survivors.

“It’s such a tragedy,” she said. “That was three different families that got destroyed in that house today,” she said.

The family has set up an account on the gofundme online site to take donations.

Favre, of the fire department, said he was frustrated to see potentially preventable fire deaths in homes without smoke detectors.

“I’ve been in my job 15 years and we hit every neighborhood in the city twice a year to give them out,” he said. “It kills me inside when I have to watch parents grieving over the loss of their children when we give out smoke detectors for free to city residents.”

Also from Sunday morning

Man dies in house fire in Collinsville

Man dies in fire in Breckenridge Hills


Resources

• The St. Louis Fire Department installs free smoke alarms. City residents can call 314-533-3406.

• Heat Up St. Louis offers assistance with utility bill payments. The nonprofit’s email is info@heatupstlouis.org. Their website, heatupstlouis.org, lists other nonprofits that assist with heating needs.

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Denise Hollinshed is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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