A night of fun turned into a nightmare when 10 children died in a Chicago residential building fire on August 26. All children, ages three months to 16 years old, were in the same unit, some visiting for a sleepover party. The building’s landlord now faces 40 code violations, including not having working smoke detectors. The tragedy shows the devastation that can occur with building fires caused by negligence.
Fire Started on Second Floor of South Sacramento Avenue Building
Investigators say the fire started on the second floor at the rear of a building on South Sacramento Avenue. At around 4 a.m. a woman returning to the property smelled the fire and tried alerting people to the fire. Ten children died in the blaze, with no survivors. The building did not have working smoke detectors.
Officials believe if the building had working smoke alarms, the children likely could have made it out. The 10 children were all found on the second floor, with the first floor vacant. Officials said that there was a clear path out of the building if the children had been woken by an alarm.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Fire Department told reporters that the fire was so hot when they arrived on the scene that it was likely burning for up to 30 minutes before anyone was aware of it. Firefighters had to knock down the door to gain entry to the building.
Victims of Chicago Building Fire Identified
Officials identified the victims as nine family members and a friend. The children were having a sleepover that fateful night. The victims, who likely died from smoke inhalation, are:
- Amayah Almaraz (3 months)
- Alanni Ayala, (3 years)
- Gialanni Ayala (5 years)
- Ariel Garcia (5 years)
- Giovanni Ayala (10 years)
- Xavier Contreras (11 years)
- Nathan Contreras (13 years)
- Adrian Hernandez (14 years)
- Cesar Contreras (14 years)
- Victor Mendoza (16 years)
Adrian Hernandez and Cesar Contreras were taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital with injuries, but died in the hospital shortly after.
“Had there been working smoke detectors, the death toll would have been less or nonexistent,” said Chicago Fire Department spokesperson Larry Langford.
On Monday, August 27, a vigil was held for the victims. Approximately 200 people gathered to remember the 10 children and share photos and videos.
Officials questioned why the 10 children were at home with no adult supervision. A family member of some of the victims said there was an adult at the residence, but she left briefly.
“My mom went to go drop off my little sister to her grandmother’s and by the time she was over there, I guess the house just started on fire,” said Marcos Contreras, whose siblings are among the victims.
As investigators work to determine what caused the tragic fire, Langford noted that they found evidence of fireworks and smoking-related objects on the back porch, which is where officials believe the fire started. Investigators have already ruled out electrical problems and arson as possible causes.
Owner Faces More than 40 Building Code Violations
Following the tragedy, city officials slapped the building’s owner with more than 40 code violations for missing smoke detectors, missing carbon monoxide detectors, and smoke detectors missing batteries, among others. Six violations relate to a building at the rear of the property, which is where the children were staying that evening. Meanwhile, officials also handed out 38 violations linked to a structure at the front of the property.
In 2015, the owner, Merced Gutierrez, received a citation for not having a working smoke detector in the same building ravaged by the fire. He also received citations for a different property that did not have proper heating or hot water.
Meanwhile, tenants at the property also complained to the city about issues with the buildings, including bedbugs, rats, and sinking floors. Some of those complaints resulted in citations while others did not.
The fire displaced at least 30 nearby residents, including adults and children, whose buildings were also affected.