Space heater may have caused fire that killed 5, officials say

A Des Plaines fire that left four young sisters and their mother dead may have been caused by a space heater, authorities said Thursday, and the flames may have blocked the only exit from their apartment.

A preliminary investigation revealed the fire began Wednesday morning at the top of the stairs leading to the family's second-floor unit, Des Plaines fire officials said. Those stairs were the only way in or out.

The building on the 700 block of West Oakton Street had no smoke detectors on the second floor, where the victims were found, officials said.

There is no sign of foul play, according to investigators.

The fire resulted in the deaths of 6-year-old Renata P. Espinosa, 5-year-old Genesis A. Espinosa, 3-year-old Allizon V. Espinosa, 1-year-old Grace Espinosa and their mother, 25-year-old Cythaly Zamodio. Zamodio's name initially was spelled differently by authorities.

Authorities said a space heater may have caused a fire Wednesday in Des Plaines that killed Grace Espinosa, 1, Allizon V. Espinosa, 3, Genesis A. Espinosa, 5, Renata P. Espinosa, 6, and their mother, Cythaly Zamodio. courtesy of Violeta Gomez-Garcia

Firefighters headed to the building about 10:15 a.m. after a passerby called 911 and reported seeing heavy smoke coming from the structure, Des Plaines spokeswoman Jennie Vana said.

Firefighters pulled all five victims from a second-story bedroom, officials said. Zamodio was pronounced dead on the scene, and the children were pronounced dead at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

All died from burns and inhalation injuries, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office. The deaths were ruled accidental.

Two tenants who had been on the first floor and in the basement got out safely, officials said. A firefighter and a police officer suffered minor injuries.

A GoFundMe online fundraiser for funeral expenses, including possibly the cost of bringing the bodies to the family's native land, was created Thursday. The fundraiser doesn't specify where the family is from.

The fundraiser's creator identified herself as cousin of Juan Manuel Espinosa Serrato, the children's father and Zamodio's husband. He has "a broken heart and many questions with no answers," according to the fundraising page.

The girls' father was at work when the fire occurred, officials have said.

By early Thursday evening, the fundraiser was more than halfway to its $50,000 goal.

  Horacio Espinosa, a neighbor and relative of the five people killed in Wednesday's fire on Oakton Street in Des Plaines, thanked the community for their support in the wake of the tragedy. Des Plaines officials said Thursday that it appears the fire was sparked by a space heater and flames blocked the victims' only exit from their apartment. Brian Hill/

Horacio Espinosa, a relative and neighbor, visited the burned building Thursday and thanked the community for its support after the tragedy.

"We are grateful to everyone who called, who asked, who told us they are worried about us," he said.

  Des Plaines officials say a preliminary investigation indicates a space heater may have been to blame for a fire that killed five people, including four young sisters, inside this Des Plaines house Wednesday. Flames likely blocked the victims' only exit from their second-floor apartment inside the building, officials said. Brian Hill/

The two-story building where the family lived contained four apartments, officials said, but it once was a single-family house. It was built in 1916 and annexed into Des Plaines in 1973.

At the time of annexation, the building already had been divided into apartments, and the apartments were allowed to remain, according to a news release. The building was registered as a rental property with the city.

Des Plaines officials last inspected the property in 2018 pending a sale, officials said. At that time, it met all inspection requirements, including the required number of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, officials said.

Although the property has a history of code violations concerning maintenance and other issues, including one open case, there are no pending building code violation cases concerning construction or occupancy, officials said. The city hasn't received complaints regarding violations inside the building, either.

The Des Plaines Fire Department, the Illinois State Fire Marshal's Office and a regional task force are investigating the blaze.

Funeral information was not immediately available.

• Daily Herald staff writers Brian Hill and Elena Ferrarin contributed to this report.

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