ELYRIA — A 4-year-old boy died in a house fire on Second Street.
The boy was found in his bedroom, according to fire inspector Paul Males, who suspected the boy had died of smoke inhalation before the fire reached his room. The fire started shortly before 3 p.m., quickly engulfing the two-story home in the 400 block of Second Street.
Omeire West’s grandfather, William Davila, said he was outside the house when the fire started. William Davila’s daughter, Alyndria Davila, and granddaughters Jayla Mitchell, 11, and Amaria West, 6, made it out unharmed.
“I was cutting the grass, my granddaughter comes running and says, ‘Papa the house is on fire!’” William Davila said. “It just took off in (one) second. It was just amazing. Just like that.”
Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Pronesti said the fire was heavily involved when crews arrived, causing problems as firefighters attempted to find Omeire.
“We did what’s called a blitz attack, (we) had to knock down the heavy fire before we could send our men in,” he said. “They went in and they did a search of the first floor. Conditions deteriorated again, rapidly, and we had to pull them out again.”
Later, as crews began searching through debris, there was another collapse in the basement, he said, again slowing recovery of the child. Omeire’s body was found shortly after 8 p.m.
“Everybody here has families, all these firemen have kids, and when there’s kids involved you go all out,” he said.
Pronesti said the fire spread so quickly in part because of the age of the home, which was built in 1895.
“Crew’s done a hell of a job keeping it from the other house (next door), these old structures, fire races right through them,” he said. “It’s called balloon framing — fire gets in the pockets and it runs, so we got a lot going against us. But the guys did a hell of a job.”
Elyria Fire Department received mutual aid from Lorain, Sheffield and North Ridgeville to control the blaze and keep it from spreading to the house next door. The fire raged through the Davila home, engulfing a car in the driveway, damaging another and catching a nearby tree on fire as crews worked to contain it.
Jim Finley, 60, who lives next door to the Davilas, said he and his family were evacuated from their house in case the fire spread. While the harm to his house is mainly cosmetic, including some burnt shingles and melted gutters, he suspects there’s at least $10,000 worth of damage to his home.
“Like the damage to my house, I could care less about it if the baby would be alright,” he said. “The house can be fixed; (the) baby can’t be fixed.”
Finley’s house also is a century home, and he suspects the house’s original wiring played a part in the fire.
“You figure that wood is over 100 years old — it’s kindling,” Finley said. “And the wiring in these houses are run through the wall on insulators … The breaker box has probably been upgraded, but the walls haven’t. He did put new windows and siding on it when he bought it, but it’s still the same (wiring), like my house is still the same. I have all (new) breakers and everything, but sometimes just running the vacuum with the AC on will kick the breaker.”
Finley described William Davila as a selfless man who raised his grandchildren from when they were infants.
“I’ve lived here seven years, and (William Davila) would give you the shirt of his back,” he said. “He works for UPS, he has forever, and he’s raised those kids — and I mean (from) babies, where he did the diaper changes and everything …”
William Davila’s cousin, Gladys Santana, of Lorain, agreed.
“He’s always been there for his daughter and the grandkids,” she said.
She, along with a number of Davila’s relatives, came to the scene as crews continued to work the fire. Bystanders, including family, friends and complete strangers, held a prayer circle about 6 p.m. for Omeire and the family.
“Nobody told me to come over,” Santana said. “My cousin called me and said this was happening, so we came right away from Lorain because this is our family and we (have to) be here for them.”
As family members rallied around their own, the community sprang into action. Leandra Castillo, of Elyria, said her motorcycle club Disturbing the Streets began collecting donations to take to Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain for the family.
“I’m just sending out a message for everybody to pray,” Castillo said. “This is Lorain, Elyria, that could be our house, so I hope we all pull together and help this family out.”
She said whenever there is a fire in the area, the club comes together to provide support for the families involved.
“This is our community, and we ride for our community,” she said. “We don’t ride to play, we ride for our community, we want to set an example, we want to be there, we want to build them up. They build us up, we build them up … This house is our family and we’re going to take care of it.”
Dana Willafane, of Elyria, and her grandmother, Alice Bailey, of Lorain; were driving by University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center when the fire started. Willafane said they followed the firetrucks there and parked at the Taco Bell. Bailey took it upon herself to carry cups of water from Taco Bell to family members on scene.
“(The) grandfather was down on the ground, crying so hard and the police were talking to him and everything, but he needed some water,” Bailey said. “So I figured, ‘Hey, other parts of the family need water also,’ so I went and got water.”
Willafane stressed the whole family will need clothes and shoes. The Red Cross was also on scene, handing out bottled water and snacks to bystanders and firefighters. Disaster program manager Lora Taylor said the organization was on hand to support the community and fire department, and would be assisting the Davila family as needed following the incident.
As the afternoon’s mission turned from rescue to recovery, Finley — whose own grandchildren play with Davila’s — was shaken.
“For this to happen, you know it makes you wonder — God wouldn’t let something like this happen, you know? Makes you question your faith, especially when there’s a 4-year-old involved. A house can be replaced, but life can’t.”