'It's just a heart-wrenching tragedy': 2 girls killed, 4 people injured in Ingleside fire
Despite firefighters' rescue attempts, two young sisters were killed in a house fire late Thursday in Ingleside.
Firefighters repeatedly tried to reach 8-year-old Elizabeth Evans and 5-year-old Autumn Evans inside the burning house on the 35700 block of North Hunt Avenue, but crews couldn't get to them, Fox Lake Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Edward Lescher said.
According to authorities and friends, also hurt in the fire were: the girls' mother, Katie Evans, 35; a brother, Cory, 17; and two grandparents, Scott and Dori Evans, both 66.
Katie Evans jumped from a second-story window as the house burned, neighbor Shannon Carroll said. Neighbors came to her assistance.
"Everybody tried to do everything we could to help," Carroll said.
Friends mourned the girls Friday. Balloons, roses and stuffed bears were left at a wooden fence outside the two-story home.
"It's just a heart-wrenching tragedy," said Lake County Board member Judy Martini of Fox Lake, whose district includes the Ingleside area.
The blaze was reported about 10:45 p.m. Thursday. It engulfed the house and left it a total loss.
Lake County sheriff's deputies got there first and tried to enter the house but couldn't because of the flames, Sgt. Chris Covelli said.
They found Katie Evans and the girls' grandfather outside. Both were badly injured. Using an emergency litter and a tarp found in the backyard, the deputies pulled them to safer positions, Covelli said.
Cory Evans' girlfriend, Emma Dinitz of Fox Lake, said she had been at the Evans house shortly before the fire and was video chatting with Cory when he announced the house was ablaze. She drove right over with her mom.
"Everything was just in flames," Dinitz recalled.
Cory Evans got out of the burning house on his own. He was hurt, but less seriously than the others, officials said.
One resident told firefighters there was another woman inside, as well as the two girls.
Lescher said firefighters entered through a back door and found the girls' grandmother about 10 or 15 feet from the door.
Firefighters tried to move deeper into the home but were driven back by smoke and flames.
"We tried to go back in to get a second attempt and just couldn't go inside," Lescher said.
Lescher said they sent a crew in again a few minutes later only to find that part of the second floor had collapsed onto the first floor.
"We went in six additional times to try and get to the kids while still fighting the fire," Lescher said.
About 50 firefighters from 10 area departments battled the flames. None were hurt.
Once firefighters had the blaze under control and were able to safely reach the second floor, they found Elizabeth's body in a bedroom and Autumn's body in a hallway, he said.
Autopsies conducted Friday revealed both girls died of smoke inhalation, Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek said in a news release.
The older victims were taken to suburban hospitals. The girls' mother and both grandparents were transferred to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood with severe burns.
All three were in critical condition Friday, Covelli said.
Cory Evans was taken to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville and remained there in fair condition, Covelli said.
Firefighters and investigators didn't find smoke detectors in the home, Lescher said.
The fire remained under investigation Friday. The state fire marshal is participating in the search for clues.
Neighbors described the Evanses as a big, happy family.
One, Raul Paz, said Elizabeth and Autumn enjoyed playing outside and running around from yard to yard, often barefoot.
Paz's 9-year-old daughter, Vivianna, regularly played with them and would sometimes join the Evanses when they hosted outdoor movie nights using a projector.
"She has been crying all night," Paz said. "It has hit her the hardest."
Shannon Carroll, who lives across the street from the Evans house, cried while talking about how nice the Evans family has been to her. She was a single mother when she moved in and said the Evanses helped when she couldn't afford groceries.
Carroll said her young son played with the Evans girls nearly every day and went to their house for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I just don't know what I'm going to tell my son," Carroll said.
At least one of the sisters attended school in Gavin Elementary District 37. Superintendent Julie A. Brua informed families of the tragedy with a message Friday. School officials made a crisis intervention team available for students, parents and staffers.
"We are saddened by the loss to our school community and will make every effort to help you and your child as you need," Brua said in her message.
An online fundraiser has been launched to help the family. It can be found at gofundme.com/f/evans-family-fire-fundraiser and has been verified as legitimate by GoFundMe, a spokesperson said. The account had collected about $110,000 toward a $150,000 goal from at least 1,900 donors by 10 p.m.
• Daily Herald staff writers Jake Griffin and Joe Lewnard contributed to this report.