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Six children die as fire sweeps New Jersey apartment

May 7, 1997

PASSAIC, N.J. (AP) _ A fire fanned by high winds roared through a three-story apartment house, killing six children who huddled near a window on the top floor as firefighters tried to save them.

The children, who ranged in age from 11 months to 10 years, were all from the same extended family.

Firefighters were able to pull four of the unconscious children from the apartment Tuesday before the building began to collapse, but efforts to revive at least two from cardiac arrest were unsuccessful. The other bodies were recovered from the charred remains of the building.

Firefighters had to use a fire escape to reach the apartment because the stairs had burned away.

``They just huddled there. One of the kids was this big,″ said Sgt. Anthony Mion, holding his hands 24 inches apart. ``It really shook me up.″

Deputy Police Chief Richard Wolak said the children had been playing together in the apartment rented by Christine Valentine, mother of four of the victims: Christine Rivera, 7; Joseph Crespo, 4; Joaldi Crespo, 2; and Ryan Aguilar, 11 months.

A woman identified by Wolak as Ms. Valentine’s mother, Virginia Quinones, lived on the first floor and lost two children: Zuleyka Rodriguez, 10, and Yesenia Rodriguez, 9.

The older children attended the school across the street. It was converted into an overnight shelter for residents of the gutted apartment house. Wolak said 19 adults and 11 children lived in the six apartments.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

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