“I’ve been doing this for 30 some-odd years and this is by far my worst day,” the fire chief said.
Four sisters under the age of 6 and their mother died in a house fire Wednesday morning in suburban Des Plaines.
The fire broke out in a two-story duplex before 10:30 a.m. in the 700 block of Oakton Street, Des Plaines Fire Chief Daniel Anderson told reporters at the scene.
“This is a terrible day, a tragic day, it’s a sad day for Des Plaines,” Anderson said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 some-odd years and this is by far my worst day.”
The sisters were identified as Grace Espinosa, 1, Allizon V. Espinosa, 3, Genesis A. Espinosa, 5, and Renata P. Espinosa, 6, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The children were taken to Lutheran General Hospital and pronounced dead, while their mother, Citahaly Zamiodo, 25, died at the scene, officials said.
Their father was at work at the time of the fire, a neighbor said.
Pabelo Marrero, who lives in one of the two first-floor apartments, held back tears as he recalled what started as a typical morning “with nothing out of the ordinary” that turned into tragedy.
He awoke to the sound of the kids’ footsteps upstairs around 9:30 a.m. Minutes later, he said he detected a faint smell of “burnt plastic” and heard a loud banging on his door. A passerby alerted him to the smoke coming from the upstairs apartment and told Marrero he needed to leave the house. The man called 911 to report smoke coming from the second floor, where most the victims were found, Anderson and Marrero said. The blaze spread to three of four apartments in the duplex, sending other uninjured residents from the home.
“It was a very hectic, rapidly evolving situation,” Anderson said.
Marrero, 52, said the whole upstairs was engulfed in smoke within 15 minutes of him first smelling smoke.
“It was bad. The amount of smoke, I’ve never seen something like that. And then when they opened up the back door, the fire starts coming out the window, I haven’t seen anything like that,” he said. “It was quick.”
Marrero said the family who lived on the second floor moved in about two years ago. He recalled the girls being energetic and happy. He said they would play with dolls and build forts in the backyard.
“The kids were always in the yard,” he said. “They always liked to be out here especially in the summer. In the summer, they would be out here all day long.”
The house was destroyed.
Officials “told us we cannot live there anymore,” Marrero said. “I went in and the house is ruined. The least damaged is my apartment, but it’s unlivable.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do right now. I’ve lived here for 12 years, I had no plans for moving.”
Marrero, a hiring manager, said he has family in Wheeling and near Midway Airport. He also has a sister in Michigan.
“Right now, it’s like, everything is gone pretty much. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know where I’m going to go,” he said. “I have no plans, I have nothing. It is what it is. I’m going to have to take it a day at a time, an hour at a time to figure out what I’m going to do.”
A firefighter hurt his knee in the blaze and a police officer was cut, city officials said.
“This is a very sad day for the City of Des Plaines,” Des Plaines Mayor Matt Bogusz said in a statement. “This kind of tragedy touches the heart of every Des Plaines resident. The City and the Des Plaines community grieve with this family and offer our support in any way we can.”
Anderson said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.