ROSELAND — After escaping the early morning inferno that engulfed her Roseland apartment complex, Darlene Jones saw two of her neighbors lying in the front yard of the building after jumping from a third-floor window — and realized four children were still stuck inside.
"The whole place was in flames. I knew those kids were gone," Jones said Monday morning while outside the complex in the 11200 block of South Vernon Avenue.
Josh McGhee reports from the scene of this morning's blaze:
The fire started at 3:24 a.m., said Officer Janel Sedevic, a Chicago Police spokeswoman. Four children were killed, while the two adults who jumped from the building were taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in critical condition. Fifty people were displaced in the fire, Sedevic said.
Eric Smith, 33, said his daughter Eri'ana, whom he described as a carefree 7-year-old "princess," was one of the children who died in the fire.
"She was beautiful in every sense of the word," Smith said.
Neighbors identified the oldest child as Carliysia Clark. Carlvon Clark and Shamarion Clark were the two middle siblings, they said.
Chicago Fire spokesman Larry Langford said the oldest child, was around 15 and the other two children were 10 and 14. The two adults are believed to be the mother of the children and her boyfriend.
Two of the children were found in a closet, and the other two were found in a bedroom, Langford said.
The fire began in a second-floor apartment and spread upstairs to the family's third-floor unit through an open door, trapping them inside, Langford said. The two adults apparently jumped from the front window of the apartment. They were found by firefighters in the front yard, Langford said.
Jones was alerted to the fire by barks from her small terrier, Toto, which woke her and her 7-year-old daughter in time for them to escape the inferno and then to alert most of her neighbors, she said.
"If it wasn't for my puppy, I don't know how many people would've died," Jones said.
Jones called 911 after opening her door and seeing the fire coming from an apartment across the hall. Though she said a man visits the apartment frequently, she thought the apartment was actually vacant.
Jones then ran up the stairs through the back of the building knocking on doors to alert her neighbors, she said. As she alerted neighbors she heard the mother of the children scream, "'It's in the hallway!'" several times.
Jones, who learned the apartment's back door was broken weeks ago while borrowing something from the woman, knew the family would have to jump to escape the fire. The woman's door was broken when she moved in almost a year ago and management had barred the door shut until they had time to fix it, Jones said.
By the time Jones was done alerting neighbors, the two adults had jumped out the window. Seeing the adults, Jones' 12-year-old daughter wondered aloud where the children were. Two of the children who died were girls and the others were boys, Jones said.
Smoke detectors in the apartment were not working, but detectors in the common area appeared to be working, Langford said.
Izell Walker, 50, lives next to the building and felt the heat of the fire early Monday. He quickly gathered his 7-month-old twins and got out.
"It was scary. I've never seen anything like that. The flames were shooting four feet out of the building," Walker said.
As he left his building, he heard people yelling and screaming "Y'all get out" before seeing two adults lying in the front yard. The man was screaming, clearly in pain, but the woman was not moving or talking, he said.
The woman, believed to be in her 30s, suffered broken bones, Langford said.
According to the City of Chicago's building data, the building failed more than 20 inspections since 2006. The most recent inspection in June of 2014 found several broken doors, missing locks, leaks causing water damage, missing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, and a broken third floor kitchen door. The building last passed inspection in February of 2014, according to the website.
The owner of the building could not be reached for comment.
Monday evening, the Cook County Medical Examiner's office confirmed the deaths and released the names of the four children but could not provide exact ages. Officials there said the Clark children and Eri'ana Smith were officially pronounced dead on the scene at 6:15 a.m.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: