TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tampa Fire investigators say there were no working smoke detectors at a home where two boys and their grandmother died in a fire on Tuesday morning. A third boy is in critical condition. Firefighters responded to the fire at 3720 E. Paris St. around 4:30 a.m. Flames were shooting from the single-story home when firefighters arrived.
The victims were found inside the home in an area near windows. The fire marshal says it appears they were trying to use the windows to escape from the burning home, but there were burglar bars on the windows.
Fire investigators say 61-year-old Sheryl James died at the scene. Emjay Jackson, age 3, Romello Jackson, age 8, and Rashard Ashley, age 8 were transported to local hospitals as trauma alerts.
Two of the boys later died. Romello is in critical condition. Fire officials say Sheryl James was the grandmother of the boys.
The 8-year-old boys were cousins who attended Sheehy Elementary School. A Hillsborough County Schools spokesperson said that the boys were third graders that were in different classes at the school. A crisis team was sent to the school on Tuesday.
The school held a moment of silence on Tuesday morning in honor of the boys. Assistant principal Dr. Diane Levy said that the boys were well behaved and for that reason she never met their parents. Levy said the boys would give her a hug every day. “Very nice boys. Very sweet boys. Very polite boys. Every morning they’re coming in grabbing a hold of me giving me hugs,” said Dr. Levy.
Fire investigators say the fire was caused by a short in an overloaded power strip. Damage to the home and contents is estimated at $42,000.
“The cause of the fire was an electrical short/malfunction. What we found out is there was a power strip along the wall in the east bedroom. It had a lot of things plugged into it and also it had a larger gage wire that was spliced into a smaller gage wire. We determined that probably malfunctioned our shorted and caused the fire,” said Fire Marshall Milton Jenkins.
“Another issue that we’ve had here at least from the respect from Tampa Fire Rescue is the fact that they had burglar bars that had no panic devices on them. In the event someone wanted to get out they would hit it and it would open so that people could escape if they needed to. They didn’t have that,” added Jenkins.
“The one particular child that we found in the restroom was in the bathtub which was right by the window so that gave us the indication that that child may have been trying to escape. The way the other residents were positioned in the back bedroom they had the mattress on the top of them like they were trying to protect themselves,” said Jenkins.
The Arson Task Force was activated and is at the home. This is a routine procedure whenever there is a death at a fire, according to a Tampa Fire Rescue spokesperson. Members of the Arson Task Force include investigators from the city and state fire marshal’s offices, the county medical examiner, and the Tampa Police Department.
Tampa Fire Rescue and the Fire Marshal stress the importance of having working smoke detectors in the home. Smoke detectors save lives.
The Tampa Fire Marshal, Milton Jenkins, and members of his staff will be joined by the American Red Cross Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. to conduct a fire safety awareness canvass of the neighborhood during which they will install smoke detectors and provide fire safety and escape route training to residents in the neighborhood. This canvass is made possible through the partnership of Tampa Fire Rescue with the American Red Cross as part of their Home Fire Campaign.
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