Heartache began early in the life of Lynesha Hooks when she lost her father to cancer, but a decade later, she was blessed with a baby she named Miracle.
Her heartache returned horribly Wednesday night when a fire, apparently sparked by a space heater, took 2-month-old Miracle away.
Firefighters tried to save Miracle, who was born July 15, but the intensity of the fire at the Hooks family home in the 3100 block of West Franklin Boulevard kept them from being able to enter the two-story home until it was too late, fire officials said.
Hooks, 23, lost her father to cancer when she was 13, she said. Today, with Hooks, her three older children and other family members staying at the Garfield Park Fieldhouse, 100 N. Central Park Avenue, she was reminded of her father’s death.
“It’s tough—it feels just like when I lost my daddy,” Hooks said. “I would have given my life to save her.”
She had three children, a girl, now 5, and a twin boy and girl, now 4, but doctors cautioned her after the birth of the twins.
“They told me not to have any more children, because I’m high-risk,” Hooks said today.
But on July 15, Hooks was able to give birth to a girl by Caesarian section, and because she had never expected to have more children, Hooks named her Miracle.
Then Wednesday, with her mother, her brother and sister and her children all at home, and Miracle sleeping in a back bedroom of the family’s first-floor apartment, Hooks went with a friend to buy a fruit punch drink at a local store.
Hooks returned home to find her family’s greystone two-flat engulfed in flames. She tried to rush into the front door, but burned her left shoulder as she was driven back by the smoke and flames.
Ruth Lewis, a neighbor who lives across the street, watched the fire from her front porch. "She was such a cute little baby," Lewis said of Miracle. "She'd be smiling all the time."
Stanley Thomas, 21, who lived in the building’s second-floor apartment with his mother, brother and sister and her two children, returned home a little before Hooks, and was able to help his sister and brother out of the apartment just because he’s lived there for a dozen years, he said.
“I couldn’t even see, but luckily, I know how my home is, so I got my family out,” said Thomas, standing in the same jeans and sleeveless undershirt he was wearing before the fire. “There was smoke everywhere.”
The fire burned hot, scorching the leaves of a tree 30 feet behind the home and turning back firefighters who also tried to enter the front door to save Miracle. The wind spread the flames, and devastated the rear of the building, where Miracle was asleep in a car seat when the fire started.
"The amount of heat that the guys were confronted with when they opened the front door, though, was tremendous," Deputy Fire Cmsr. John McNicholas told reporters at the scene Wednesday evening. "When we find out that someone's trapped, we give it an extra effort to try to get in there."
Firefighters found Miracle in a back bedroom, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Meg Ahlheim. A preliminary investigation found that a space heater near a bed caused the fire, officials said. The Department of Childen and Family Services also is investigating.
There were smoke detectors inside the first- and second-floor apartments but they were not working, the Fire Department said. The fire also destroyed a home next door.
Amelia Carson said she was able to save her 11-year-old son, who was resting after his first day back at school since the teachers strike.
"He was in the back asleep," Carson told WMAQ-TV Channel 5. "It took me a little minute to get him up and wake him up, so it took me a little minute to get him out of there."
The fire displaced 30 people, including 12 children, Ahlheim said. Of those, 23 went to a Red Cross shelter set up at the Garfield Park Fieldhouse, 100 N. Central Park Avenue, and 19 of them stayed overnight, said Sara Echols, a social worker who volunteers with the Red Cross.
A firefighter who was injured taken in good condition to Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center.
Today, Hooks and her family are trying to make sense of their loss, and dealing with the second-guessing survivors of a fatal fire often have.
“I can’t believe I lost my baby,” Hooks said outside the Garfield Park Fieldhouse. “I should have just taken her to the store with me.”
Tribune reporters Deanese Williams-Harris, Liam Ford and William Lee contributed.