Three of the five children who died in an early morning fire at a Pennsylvania child care center on Sunday belonged to a firefighter who had been called out to respond to a false alarm.
Lawrence Park Township volunteer firefighter Luther Jones’ two daughters La’Myhia Jones, eight, and Ava Jones, four, as well as his son Luther Jones Jr., six, were killed in the fire.
Lawrence Park Township Volunteer Fire Chief Joe Crotty told DailyMail.com that Jones was called out to what turned out to be a false automatic fire alarm at another building in the city about 1.49am and did not learn of his children’s death until he received a phone call with the news at around 4am.
Jones, who married a different woman in June, shared the children with Shevona Overton, who also lost her fourth child from another relationship, nine-month-old Jaydan Augustyniak, in the fire.
The fifth child who died has not yet been identified publicly. Both the owner of the facility and a neighbor were injured in the fire, CBS News reported.
The fire was reported at a single-family residence in Erie, Pennsylvania, that housed the registered, 24-hour Harris Family Daycare, at about 1.15am on Sunday, Chief Guy Santone of the Erie Fire Department said.
Valerie Lockett-Slupski, standing across the street from the fire-damaged house, told the Erie Times-News that she was the grandmother of the four Jones and Overton children and that they were staying at the home because their parents were working overnight.
‘So, we are all at a loss, trying to figure out how this happened,’ Lockett-Slupski said.
The fire was funneling out of every first-floor window when firefighters arrived, Erie Chief Fire Inspector John Widomski said.
He said the blaze appeared to have started in the living room area on the first floor.
The department’s two fire inspectors and three Erie police detectives trained in fire investigations are working to determine the official cause.
Erie police detectives told the newspaper that the owner, Elaine Harris, was listed in stable condition after being flown to UPMC Mercy.
The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership lists the Harris Family Daycare as ‘a 24 hour, 7 days a week childcare service including holidays.’
A neighbor told the newspaper that two children, said to be 12 and 17 years old, managed to escape the fire by climbing out onto the first-floor roof of the home and then jumping to the ground.
Flames were said to have been see coming out of the windows of the home and that the fire was so hot that it melted off the front of the home’s vinyl siding, as well as portions of the vinyl siding on neighboring homes.
Investigators said that they found one smoke detector inside the attic of the three-story home.
It’s unclear if the fifth child who died was in daycare or a member of the family who lived in the home.
Go Erie reported that Pennsylvania Department of Human Services records list the daycare as being compliant following a December 2018 inspection, with a certificate of compliance covering March 21, 2019 to March 2020.
A January 3 inspection was said to have revealed the presence of ‘ashes and cigarette or cigar butts’ which are banned in childcare and play spaces, as well as food preparation areas, according to CBS News.
The childcare provider, presumably Harris, was said to have promised to ‘make sure it will be cleaned up and remain that way.’
The same inspection noted that there needed to be ‘protective receptacle covers’ placed in electrical outlets that children five or under had access to, which the provider planned to turn ‘the outlets so they were closed’ when not in use.
Both issues were said to have been marked as being corrected after the inspection.
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call Erie police Detective Sgt. Michael Hertel at 814-870-1260 or Detective David Walker at 814-870-1122.