Quick thinking by a young child and some good fortune combined to prevent a house fire early this morning from turning into a devastating tragedy, a Wichita fire official said today.
Three young children, ages 7, 5 and 4, were in a back bedroom when a fire started in the room just before 12:15 a.m. today, Fire Capt. Stuart Bevis said. One of the children went to the front porch of the house at 1621 N. Pershing, where two adults were talking, and told them there was a fire.
One of the adults tried to put the fire out while the other evacuated the three children. "The fire got too big," Bevis said, and the adult fled the house.
"At that point, they realized they had not got the 2-year-old out," Bevis said, referring to a young girl asleep in a front bedroom. "They tried to make entry again, but couldn't due to the deteriorating conditions."
Firefighters were alerted to the trapped child as they were on their way to the house, Bevis said, and they immediately went into the house and found the toddler in her bedroom.
Because her clothing and face were black with soot, there were concerns that she had inhaled a lot of smoke, Bevis said. She was taken to the burn unit at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis in critical condition, but has since improved to fair condition.
Damage was set at $20,000, Bevis said. The back bedroom where the fire started is essentailly destroyed, but the rest of the house sustained water and smoke damage.
An investigation determined one of the young children had been playing with a lighter and accidentally set bedding on fire. The fire then rapidly spread.
Authorities "very narrowly" averted a real tragedy in the fire, Bevis said.
"It could have been horrific if a couple of things hadn’t gone exactly right," he said.
For starters, the 7-year-old quickly alerted the adults on the front porch and was shepherding the younger children out of the house.
"There wasn't any chance for them to go hide," Bevis said. "Whether they were involved in the ignition or not, they're scared of that situation. When that happens, they start hiding. It's natural instinct."
And all too often that is why children die in fires, he said - they aren't found in time.
Firefighters were given good information on where to find the 2-year-old in this incident, Bevis said, allowing them to get to her quickly.
The prognosis often isn't good for someone as soot-covered as the toddler was, Bevis said, simply because of how much smoke inhalation typically occurs in those circumstances.
"Luckily, in this case, it went the other way" toward recovery, he said.