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Home Fires Kill 18 People In Three States, Including 14 Children

February 2, 1986

Undated (AP) _ A fire apparently started by a malfunctioning kerosene heater gutted a house in New Jersey on Saturday, killing five children and a woman, as fires in four states claimed 18 lives.

Blazes took the lives of six people in Illinois, four in New York and two in Maryland.

One fire apparently was started by children playing with matches, and another by someone smoking in bed, authorities said.

In Trenton, N.J., Sharon Ceasar, 22, said that about 4 a.m. she heard neighbor William Alfred McCleese yell ″The house is on fire 3/8″ and that her boyfriend called firefighters.

″We tried to get in there and save somebody. The front door was locked,″ she said. ″The fire was all over. It was terrible. He (McCleese) got out the window.″

Deputy Fire Chief Dennis Keenan said McCleese urged his girlfriend, Lillie St. Clair, 33, to throw the children down to him from a second-story window and then jump. ″Before she had a chance to do either, the fire got too intense,″ he said.

The victims were identified as Ms. St. Clair, her two children, a daughter of McCleese’s, and two young boys staying with them. McCleese, 29, was hospitalized with burns, Keenan said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but Keenan said neighbors who had visited the house Friday night saw McCleese trying to repair a kerosene heater. Such heaters are illegal in Trenton.

Witnesses said McCleese ran from the house with the heater, his clothes afire, dropped it in the front yard, before urging Ms. St. Clair to throw the children down to him.

A fire in a multifamily house on New York’s Staten Island killed three children and one adult early Saturday and at least 14 other people were injured, authorities said.

Fire Department spokesman John Mulligan said the cause of the blaze was under investigation, but it appeared to have been set by someone smoking in bed after drinking. Mulligan said there were no smoke alarms.

Off-duty firefighter Steven Ruggirello, 30, said he was driving past the house when he spotted flames and a woman outside yelling for help. He pulled a fire alarm and raced inside the house with two police officers who arrived seconds after him.

Ruggirello said the three roused several people from their rooms, but flames kept him from reaching the third floor.

After leaving the house, he saw Kenneth Mitchell, 29, and his wife, Evelyn, 23, leap out a third-floor window to the pavement below. The Mitchells said their three children were still inside; two of the children died and a third was in critical condition.

Another occupant of the building was found dead with his 4-month-old granddaughter.

In Thompsonville, Ill. a father and his five children were killed Saturday when fire engulfed their trailer home, authorities said. The children’s ages ranged from about 7 to 17, said Sgt. John Moore of the Franklin County Sheriff’s department.

A house fire that killed two people in Baltimore, including a small boy, was believed to have been caused by a child playing with matches.

Careless smoking and children playing with matches have been the two major causes of fatal fires in Baltimore, said fire department Capt. Patrick Flynn.

″People just don’t listen,″ he said. He added that the house had no smoke detector.

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