S.I. FIRE HORROR

NY Post - December 11, 2005

by JENNIE LESZKIEWICZ and HEIDI SINGER

A hysterical Staten Island mom screamed for help as a horrific fire swept through her house early yesterday, killing two of her children and badly burning her infant son.

Preston Pearl, 10, and Stormy Melendez, 6, never made it out of their second-floor bedrooms after the blaze broke out at 2:20 a.m. in the family's Tarlton Street home in Oakwood Beach.

Another son, Chance Melendez, 3, was rushed to Staten Island University Hospital with second- and third-degree burns, relatives said. He remained in critical condition in the burn unit yesterday.

A 13-year-old sister, Bonnie, last name unavailable, suffered a broken ankle after jumping from the second-floor bedroom that she shared with Stormy.

Mother Susan Kronowitz, 34, stood outside "screaming about the babies," said a neighbor.

"She was screaming that the kids were still inside. There was a snow shovel so I grabbed it and started breaking the windows. I screamed out, 'If you're there, show me where you are.' "

Relatives said Stormy refused to jump out of her window.

"Bonnie told her to jump, but she never came," said Kronowitz's brother, Billy.

Fire officials are still investigating the cause, but don't consider the blaze suspicious, said FDNY spokesman Charlie Markey.

Relatives said the Fire Department was examining problems with the wiring behind the refrigerator as a possible cause.

Kronowitz had just returned from her job as a cab driver when she smelled smoke, relatives said.

Her husband, Hector Melendez, a school janitor and aspiring rapper going by the stage name Killa Switch, was practicing his raps in the front of the house. The kids were asleep in their bedrooms.

The two-alarm fire quickly gutted the small family home.

Piles of ashes dotted with clothing and other personal belongings lay in the wreckage, and a burning stench wafted over the waterside community of converted beach bungalows.

Friends and relatives remembered the dead children fondly.

Stormy "was a perfect little girl — smart, like a little actress," said her uncle Billy. "She loved her dad's music and coloring books."

Preston, a football and basketball player, was "really sweet, and he had lots of friends on the block," said Kelsey Balzafiore, 14, who lives nearby.

Firefighters responded in eight minutes and 30 seconds, said Markey.

That's about three minutes slower than what officials have said is the average time it takes to respond to a Staten Island blaze.

Some 110 firefighters took more than an hour to tame the blaze.