EAST ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - Shouts of "fire!" awoke a young mother in East St. Louis around 8:00am Saturday. She, her two babies, and at least 3 others escaped the smoke and flames. Sadly, Alexander Johnson, 16, did not.
It was still hard to believe it really happened in the 600 block of 79th street. A grieving family was mourning the loss of someone they thought they'd see alive in the home, where they expected to still be living.
"Crews responded. Fire was shooting out the side of the house and the front of the house through the windows," said East St. Louis Fire Chief Jason Blackmon.
"I heard them yelling fire, `fire`, and we ran out," said Iquiria Nichols, 19.
She said Johnson was her step-brother.
Nichols grabbed her year old daughter and two week old son, then ran for the door. The flames spread through nearly every room of the house. At least three others escaped. No one could get to Johnson in time.
"Fire was everywhere. Firefighters tried their best to rescue the young man, but it was rough when they arrived on the scene," Blackmon said.
"It was just smoke. The flames started when were already out. That`s when the flames had started. It was just a whole lot of heavy smoke," Nichols said.
A firefighter said the fire likely started in the basement where Johnson was sleeping.
Neighbors said an electric heater may have started it. But the damage is so extensive investigators may never know for sure.
"The fire, when the crews arrived, was in the basement and upstairs so it`s hard to determine right now," Blackmon said.
A state fire marshal's investigator was on the scene looking into the cause; but with three feet of standing water in the basement from the firefighters' efforts, he said making an exact determination would be tough.
No one else was seriously hurt. The Red Cross is providing emergency food, shelter, and clothing to the four adults and three children impacted by the fire.
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