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    8 people, including at least 6 children, killed in Chicago apartment fire

    Eight people, including at least six children, were killed when a fire broke out before dawn Sunday at a Chicago apartment in one of the deadliest fires in the city in years, officials say.
    Two other people were hospitalized in very critical condition, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt said. One of the children who died was an infant, according to Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago
    A makeshift memorial along a nearby sidewalk in the Little Village neighborhood included crosses for each child who died — a small Mickey Mouse doll set next to one. The Rev. Clifford Spears of Saint Michael Missionary Baptist Church led a crowd that gathered in prayer, the Chicago Tribune reported.
    Late Sunday, authorities had not released the names and ages of the victims.
    Krystle Sauseda, 31, who said she was an aunt of many of the victims, told the Chicago Tribune they included four siblings from one family, three siblings from another family and an unrelated teen who was a close friend to the group.
    A woman who saw the blaze as she was returning home from work alerted people and gave them a chance to escape, Santiago said.
    Rosario Vergara told the Chicago Sun-Times she was coming home from a family reunion early Sunday when her daughter noticed smoke coming from the rear of the apartment.
    “She says, ‘There’s a lot of smoke,’ and I looked and it was bad,” Vergara said.
    After calling 911, Vergara, 34, ran to the front of the building and began knocking on apartment doors. When she tried to walk through a gangway to get to the rear of the building, plumes of smoke and heat from the flames turned her back.
    “I couldn’t describe it. You couldn’t see, and it was hard to breathe,” Vergara said. “You could feel this heat, this intense heat.
    “I knew there were kids, ’cause we would see them all out playing.”
    Fire officials credited Vergara’s quick response with saving others who lived nearby.
    “We have not had this in many, many, many years — this amount of fatalities and injuries on one location,” Santiago said. “So the female who did that saved a lot of lives.”
    At least two buildings caught fire, one of them described by fire department officials as a coach house.
    Video showed smoke coming from windows of a three-story building’s stone facade, with flames engulfing the back. Police officers helped push a stretcher toward an ambulance, while a paramedic simultaneously performed CPR. One woman lay on a street crying while someone tried to comfort her.
    Jesse Cobos, a friend of the family, led a group prayer before a set of votive and jar candles where the names of those lost in the fire were written in marker, the Sun-Times reported.
    “Father, God, take them to heaven,” Cobos said.
    About 11 a.m., Cobos helped a man add the names of the children to a wooden cross that had been brought to the scene. He held his head in his hands and sobbed as he gave the six names for the cross: Giovanni, Gialanni, Alanni, Ariel, Xavier and Cesar.
    “Let’s leave some room so we can write the others on later if that happens,” he said. “These are just the ones we know for now.”
    Less than an hour later, they had added the name “Victor” to the cross.
    The fire was put out by just after 5 a.m., fire department officials said. At least one firefighter was injured and was hospitalized in good condition.
    Merritt said investigators have not found working smoke detectors.
    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was lending assistance to investigators, the Sun-Times reported. A source close to the investigation told the Sun-Times investigators found smoking materials and bottle rockets on a porch where the fire originated, but it wasn’t known if they sparked the blaze.
    The building where the fire started sits between a three-story apartment building and a garage on the same lot, the fire department said. The first floor of the coach house had been vacant and was boarded up. The configuration of the buildings is a relic of the city’s past and no longer would be permitted, the Sun-Times reported.
    The fire ultimately spread to the rear of the apartment building on the same lot and consumed the enclosed staircase of another building next door, and two other buildings nearby sustained damage; the heat of the flames melted the vinyl siding, the fire department said.
    The blaze affected nine units and several families, according to the American Red Cross, which had volunteers on the scene providing food, housing and health services.
    The American Red Cross planned to work with the Chicago Fire Department to canvass the neighborhood to ensure homes have functional smoke alarms installed, the CEO of the Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross, Celena Roldan, told the Sun-Times.

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