LITTLE VILLAGE — A fire that ripped through a coach house and killed 10 children attending a sleepover is the deadliest house fire the city has seen in 42 years, fire officials said.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford called the early Sunday morning blaze the “worst house fire they have seen in decades.”
Langford said the department saw deadly house fires in the early 2000s that killed upwards of six children in Rogers Park, but the Little Village house fire had the highest casualties in a single house fire since a “1976 fire that killed 10 children and 2 adults.”
According to the Tribune, a house fire killed 10 children in Pilsen on December 24, 1976.
The 1976 Pilsen fire broke out during a Christmas Eve birthday party, the New York Times reported. “Lighter fluid from an open can was sloshed onto the burning coals of a charcoal grill and the can burst into flames,” the New York Times reported at the time.
Residents attempted to get the burning can out of the building but dropped it in the process setting the stairwell on fire, which blocked off an escape route for residents and partygoers, according to the report.
Many of the children who died in the Pilsen fire were found “huddled under beds where they apparently tried to hide from the flames and smoke,” the New York Time reported.
The Little Village tragedy unfolded early Sunday. Fire crews arrived at the fire in the 2200 block of South Sacramento at about 4 a.m. The fire began in the rear of the building and spread to the front.
No smoke detectors were found in the building, fire officials said.
Earlier this summer, the building’s owner was cited for electrical violations, according to city officials. However, electrical problems have been ruled out as a cause of the fire, and the investigation is ongoing, Langford said.
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office has identified five of the 10 victims Tuesday as 3-month old Amaya Almaraz, 5-year-old Gialanni Ayala, 10-year-old Giovanni Monarrez, 16-year-old Victor Mendoza, 14-year-old Cesar Contreras and 14-year-old Adrian Hernandez.
Since the fire, memorial crosses were built at the site with the names: Alanni, Ariel, Cesar, Giovanni, Gialanni , Mya, Nathen, Victor and Xavier. Family, friends and residents steadily stopped by to pay their respects.
Rocia Rivera, a 50-year-old mother of three who lives down the block, knew one of the families affected by the fire for many years.
“It’s very sad,” she said. “Personally, my heart is broken. I don’t have any words. I can’t imagine what the family is going through. … I can’t believe it … all the little angels are not here anymore.”
Rivera urged landlords and residents to make sure they had functioning fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. “They could have saved so many lives,” she said.
Since the fire, the Little Village community has been raising money to help families cover the costs of the funerals and burials and to help people displaced by the devastating fire.
Nonprofit Enlace Chicago launched a GoFundMe campaign Sunday to help families cover the costs of funerals and burials. The fundraiser seeks to raise $ 100,000, and has raised $23,127 as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Another GoFundMe fundraiser created by the organizers of the La Villita Facebook page aims to raise money to help the Ayala, Contreras and Mendoza families cover funeral and hospital costs. The families are related to each other and were sleeping in the same building and lost eight children in the fire, according to the post. The fundraiser seeks to raise $50,000 and has raised $25,515 as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.
A third GoFundMe fundraiser organized by Friends of Spry aims to raise money to cover the basic needs of the displaced Mercado, Vergara-Sotelo, Gutierrez and Barragán families who survived the fire, according to the campaign. The fundraiser seeks to raise $10,000 and has raised $1,000 as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Donations for the families can be dropped off the Enlace offices at 2329 S. Troy St. or 2756 S. Harding Ave., at Latino Progresando, 3047 W. Cermak Road, and at Amor De Dios Church, 2356 S. Sawyer Ave.