3 boys killed in West Side fire were trapped in illegal basement apartment with only one exit that was blocked by flames, officials say

Three young brothers who died in a West Humboldt Park fire were trapped in an illegal basement apartment with only one exit that was blocked by flames, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

A fourth boy remains in extremely critical condition from the fire, which broke out early Sunday in the back of the the apartment at 4032 W. Potomac, Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.

The child’s mother was badly burned and inhaled smoke, likely while trying to find her children in their bedrooms, Langford said. Flames blocked the back door — the only exit — forcing the mother to break a window and escape, he said.

The mother remained incapacitated at a hospital while she recovers from burns to her face, Langford said.

Firefighters responded at 12:20 a.m. and had to break through the apartment door, which was locked from the inside, Langford said. Two children were found unresponsive in a room near the door, and the two other children were found on the other side of the apartment.

Firefighters rescued all four of the children, who had suffered smoke inhalation, Langford said.

Axel Cruz, 4, was pronounced dead at Saints Mary and Elisabeth Medical Center, authorities said. Jayden Cruz, 6, and Angel Rodriguez, 11, were hospitalized but later died. The fourth child remains hospitalized.

Investigators determined the fire was caused by an open flame in one of the back rooms, Langford said. But everything beyond that remains under investigation, he said. It’s unclear what set the fire, or if it was accidental.

Firefighters could hear a working smoke detector when they arrived at the home, according to the fire department.

All four children were brothers who lived with their mother and her partner at the apartment, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said in an interview. They had lived there for at least a few years, she said. The community held a vigil for the children and is planning another for 5 p.m. Wednesday outside the home.

Mitts said the fire was especially tragic because several of the children’s friends had seen them being taken unconscious from the building.

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