The Bensenville community is rallying to support the family of a 4-year-old boy who was killed Wednesday afternoon in a tragic house fire.
By Thursday morning, flowers, stuffed animals and a balloon had been placed next to a tree in front of the house where little Martin Pletz died.
Bensenville Fire Protection District officials said they were fielding phone calls from residents wanting to help the grieving Pletz family. One of those callers was Lynette Navigato, who lives several houses from the fire scene.
"It's hard. I don't think any of us (neighbors) got much sleep last night," said Navigato, who is collecting clothing donations for the family's four surviving children.
Authorities, meanwhile, said they're still investigating the cause of the fire, which began about 2 p.m. in a back bedroom of the one-story brick house on the 1500 block of West Devon Avenue.
Fire officials said the mother, Tiffany Pletz, was home with four of her five children when the fire started. The oldest daughter, an 8-year-old, was at her grandfather's house at the time of the blaze, neighbors said.
Pletz got three of her children out of the house at the same time and then rushed to the home of Kathleen Barroso, who lives next door. She told Barroso that Martin hid behind a dresser in a bedroom and was trapped inside the burning building.
Barroso and Pletz then ran around the house, trying to get back in through a door and by breaking windows.
"It was just completely black," Barroso said. "It was just flames."
She said they were joined by two bystanders and two Wood Dale police officers before firefighters arrived, but they couldn't save Martin.
"The house was just too much in flames," Barroso said.
Two dogs also died.
Barroso said Tiffany Pletz told her the fire started when one of the children was playing with matches and a mattress ignited.
DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen said an autopsy was completed Thursday but preliminary results won't be released until the coroner's office, the Bensenville Police Department and the DuPage County Arson Task Force complete their investigations.
A volunteer organization in Bensenville called The Helping Hands is working with the fire protection district to collect donations for the family.
"We are accepting whatever people feel like donating," Battalion Chief Charlie Johnson said. "We'll make sure the family gets it."
Village President Frank Soto said Bensenville residents are "very giving people"and he's proud the fire protection district is assisting the effort to help the Pletz family.
"It shows it's not just a job for the firefighters," he said. "They are very sympathetic to the needs of the people they help. It goes beyond just putting out a fire."
Anyone wishing to donate money can write a check to The Helping Hands c/o of the Pletz family. Donations can be dropped off or mailed to the fire station at 500 S. York Road, Bensenville, 60106.