Fire investigators say “mishandling of fire products” on a mattress in the living room caused the fire that killed five children on Parkcliffe Avenue in Youngstown in December of last year.
Fire Investigator Kurt Wright held a press conference Thursday with updates on the investigation.
He said the fire was caused by a lighter or match, and it started on the first floor.
The family used the mattress that caught on fire when they watched TV together in the living room. Wright said the mother, America Negron, had been smoking on the mattress before the fire.
When the fire broke out, Negron and three of the children — 9-year-old Aleysha Rosario, 3-year-old Charles Gunn and 2-year-old Ly’Asia Gunn — were on the second floor of the home.
The fire burned intensely and there was a lot of smoke.
Negron survived by jumping from a second-story bedroom window. She ran across the street, asking neighbors to call 911. Wright said they got three 911 calls.
Meanwhile, he said opening the second-story window actually made the fire worse. The cold air from the open window fueled the fire.
“It was approximately 16 degrees out that night. So we had a fire on the first floor and now had a vented window on the second floor, which allowed that smoke and heat to travel directly up the stairwell, almost like a chimney,” Wright said.
That brought the fire directly up to the three older children.
Wright said firefighters got to the house in two minutes. He said they heard two working smoke detectors when they arrived on scene.
Firefighters did their best to locate the children stuck inside as soon as possible.
“The three children upstairs were all rescued from three different locations. So it indicated that they had been moving around,” Wright said.
Aleysha was found in the hallway outside of Negron’s bedroom door. Another child was found in the second-floor bathroom and the third was found in a threshold area between the bedroom and the hallway, Wright said.
Though crews were able to rescue them initially, those children ultimately died from the fire.
One-year-old twins, Brianna and Arianna Negron, were found in the living room. Firefighters were not able to rescue them.
“That fire was intense. It was a very intense fire. Crews had their hands full,” Wright said.
Wright said the investigation was complicated and took several months to complete.
He said he tried to give the family as much time as possible to heal, but admitted that Negron has not been cooperating with the investigation.
“She has not returned any of my calls and has not called me, other than the initial interview.”
Wright said Negron initially told them she’d smoked on the mattress but later said one of her children must have been playing with a lighter. Investigators found multiple lighters in the house.
WKBN first talked to Negron about the tragic fire last week, before the investigator’s ruling. She said she feels like she’s “in hell,” living without her babies.
“You think I didn’t think about not jumping out the window? You think I didn’t — I wanted to jump out the window and leave my babies there? But if I don’t jump out the window — I can’t find my phone, everything is pitch black, I can barely breathe — nobody’s going to find us. I’m going to die trying to help them and I can’t help them,” she said.
Wright said Negron would not have been able to get downstairs because the fire was so intense.
Negron suffered critical injuries when she jumped from the window. Wright said she burned her hand and had smoke inhalation.