2 kids die in S.I. fire

NY Daily News - December 11, 2005

by MAUREEN SEABERG and DON SINGLETON

A 7-year-old boy and his younger sister were burned to death in their Staten Island home yesterday when they refused to jump from the window of their blazing second-floor bedroom.

A 3-year-old brother who had been sleeping in the same bedroom suffered critical burns over 30% of his body, while their 14-year-old sister made the two-story leap and survived without serious burns, officials said.

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God! My kids!" screamed the children's mother, Susan Melendez, as she collapsed into the arms of relatives at Staten Island University Hospital.

Fire officials said the blaze erupted at 2:20 a.m. in the converted summer bungalow at 134 Tarlton St. in Oakwood Beach, a former seasonal beach community.

According to neighbors, the children all slept in a second-floor bedroom that had been added to the bungalow above the kitchen during a renovation, while their parents slept in the first-floor family room.

Officials and family members identified the two children who died as Preston Melendez, 7, and his 6-year-old sister, Stormy Melendez.

"They wouldn't jump" from the second-story window, said Fire Department Safety Education Officer Joe Torriello, a retired fire lieutenant.

The 3-year-old, Chance Melendez, suffered burns over 30% of his body and was being treated in the burn unit of Staten Island University Hospital.

The 14-year-old sister, Bonnie Melendez, suffered a fractured ankle when she jumped from her bedroom window, authorities said. The children's father, identified as Hector Melendez, was not injured, officials said.

"It's a tragedy. It's very, very troubling," said Evelyn Gonzalez, 64, a neighbor. "I have two little grandchildren who stay here, and the mother would always pass Popsicles over the fence."

"When I heard about it my heart fell into my stomach," said neighbor Melissa O'Brien, 16.

Torriello said the fire appeared to have been caused by overloaded electrical circuits. Fire marshals confirmed the blaze started in wires behind the refrigerator.

"Before \[the firefighters\] even got here, the place was totaled," said neighbor Robert Clarke, who lives across the street in an area blanketed with sea grass.

Even though the fire companies responded quickly, Clarke said, "I never saw a fire spread so fast in all my life. It scared me. I got up around 2:30 and in five minutes the place was gone."

By daybreak, the formerly white cottage was completely charred and gutted. Only a backyard pool and a basketball hoop were unscathed.