S.I. Fire Kills Two Siblings And Critically Injures Another

NY Times - December 11, 2005

by DAMIEN CAVE and ANN FARMER

Two young siblings were killed and a third was critically injured yesterday morning after a fire raced through a cottage on Staten Island's eastern shore near Oakwood Beach, the authorities said.

Fire officials said a 10-year-old boy and his 6-year-old sister died in the blaze, which appeared to have started in the kitchen of their home at 134 Tarlton Street. The victims' 3-year-old brother, who had serious burns, was in critical condition yesterday afternoon at Staten Island University Hospital. The authorities said their older sister, 14, suffered a broken ankle after jumping out a second-floor window.

The children's parents, identified by friends as Susan and Hector Melendez, escaped with minor or no injuries.

James Blankley, 62, a neighbor of the Melendezes, said he saw the couple standing in bathrobes near their home just after 2 a.m. as flames tore through the cottage and its addition. They were distraught, he said, and worried about their children.

"I said, 'How'd you get out of the house?' " Mr. Blankley said, recalling his conversation with Mr. Melendez. "He said, 'I just ran.' "

Joe Torrillo, a fatal fires consultant working with the New York City Fire Department, said that the fire was under investigation but that it seemed to have been caused by an electrical problem in the kitchen, near the basement.

The children who died - Preston, 10, and Stormy, 6 - hesitated as the fire spread and were trapped, Mr. Torrillo said. Authorities said their older sibling, Bonnie, 14, survived by jumping from her bedroom window. It wasn't clear how the 3-year-old, Chance, got out.

More than 110 firefighters fought the fire, which took more than an hour to bring under control. By yesterday morning, the house was little more than a charred shell, its inner walls turned to ash. Neighbors, including children who were friends with the family, gathered at the scene.

Some speculated that Preston, a fifth grader at Public School 50 who loved football, had probably tried to protect his sister. Others talked about Stormy, a bright little girl who they said often trailed the older children in the neighborhood.

Kelsey Balzafiore, 14, said the Melendez children were sweet and polite. Melissa O'Brien, 16, said, "My heart just fell into my stomach" when she learned of the fire.

"It's weird and sad," she said. "We're used to seeing them around, and now we won't, and with Christmas coming up, it's hurtful."