NEW CASTLE, Pa. (WKBN) – Authorities in New Castle believe a fire that killed two young children Tuesday morning was an accident, but they still don’t know for sure what touched off the blaze.
Firefighters and police raced to the duplex in the 400 block of Boyles Avenue shortly after 2 a.m. Although a half dozen people living there all managed to get out, 5-year-old Isaiah and 2-month-old Roman Whittier died.
New Castle police and the Ohio state fire marshal are handling the investigation.
The boy’s father, CJ, told reporters he and his wife, Jocelyn Burchan, left candles burning in a front upstairs bedroom and forgot to blow them out. However, investigators think the fire may have actually started in another part of that room and the candles are not to blame.
Authorities do believe the fire started on or near a chair in that bedroom, but believe confusion at the scene led to some conflicting statements.
“There is a lot of confusion about how people perceive things and it is something that when everything settles down, I need to go back and talk to everybody and at that point I could probably lock all the details down,” New Castle Police Sgt. David Viggiano said.
He said investigators are convinced the fire was accidental and is not considered suspicious.
Investigators said the two-story duplex was considered a rental property and should have had working smoke detectors in every bedroom, but none were found.
Neighbors gathered Tuesday morning to share their grief and others laid stuffed animals on the front steps in memory of the two boys who died. Residents on that part of Boyles Avenue said they were shocked and saddened.
“No words. I don’t even have words. I am just numb,” Lisa Besharo said.
“There is nothing you can do. It is the most horrible feeling in the world. You stand there and you know there is kids in there,” Gabriele Dickey said.
Besides Whittier, his wife and the two children that died, two other children, Burchan’s mother and a friend also were living in the house. The other residents managed to get out safely.
New Castle police officer Justin Warren suffered smoke inhalation trying to get into the house to rescue the children. He was overcome by smoke and collapsed near the home’s entryway, but got himself out before he was taken to the hospital and later released.
“More than anything right now, he is a young officer. This is the first time he has experienced something of this kind. And he is pretty devastated right now,” Viggiano said.
Tuesday morning’s blaze was actually the third house fire in New Castle the past two days, with all of them appearing to be accidents. But with Tuesday morning’s fire leaving two young children dead, supervisors said they will be offering the chance for crews to share their feelings and get help coping with the tragedy.
“Normally after the incident is over, we do what is called a debriefing. Sit our men down, let them have a chance to talk with other providers that were involved. And kind of give everyone a chance to settle in and come to terms with it on their own,” New Castle Assistant Fire Chief Mike Kobbe said.
Firefighters said it has been six or seven years since they had to deal with a blaze that claimed the life of a child in New Castle.