HAMMOND | Space heaters being used in a home without heat are believed to have caused a Wednesday night house fire that killed three young children, officials said.
Chief Fire Inspector Michael Opinker said the children's father, Andre Young, 27, was in critical condition Thursday in the burn unit at John H. Stroger Hospital in Chicago after rescuing two of his other children from the blaze.
Jayden Young, 7 months, Dasani Young, 4, and Alexia Young, 3, all of 644 Sibley St., were pronounced dead at the home about 12:15 a.m., said a spokeswoman for the Lake County coroner's office.
The cause of death for all of the children was listed as burns to the body. The manner of death is pending further investigation.
Opinker said firefighters were called just before 10:30 p.m. to the home in the 600 block of Sibley Street. The home consists of two rental units.
When the first engine arrived at the scene, flames were shooting out of a front window and Andre Young was standing outside with two of his children, ages 2 and 6, whom he rescued from the blaze.
Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Margraf said there is another child in the family who was not at the home at the time of the fire.
Andre Young, who was badly burned, told firefighters his three other children were inside.
"The front door was barricaded, so they had to take the hinges off to get in," Opinker said.
Their work was hampered by the intense heat of the flames, Opinker said.
The three children killed were found within 6 feet of the front door, Opinker said tearfully.
"By the time the firefighters found the kids inside, it was too late," neighbor Tim Stringfield said.
Jasmin Rice, who lives in the other rental unit in the home, recalled seeing smoke in the house and hearing Andre Young scream, "My babies, my babies, I gotta get my babies."
When he emerged from the home, "his whole back, everything was on fire," Rice said.
Andre Young and the 2-year-old and 6-year-old children were initially taken to Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital in Hammond before being transported via medical helicopter to the burn unit at Stroger Hospital.
Opinker said the children's mother was not home at the time of the fire. She later was at the hospital with her husband and children, he said.
Opinker said space heaters are believed to have played a role in the fatal blaze.
"We're leaning toward a couple of space heaters as the origin," Opinker said. "They had no heat, so they were using propane to heat the house."
The Indiana state fire marshal's office is assisting in the investigation. Opinker said investigators also plan to speak to the mother of the children as part of their routine investigation.
Nick Meyer, spokesman for NIPSCO, said gas and electric service in the unit in which the fire started was disconnected in the spring because of nonpayment.
The gas and electric service in the other rental unit was active.
Neighbors said the Young family was using a generator to power their apartment.
Neighbor Javier Dominguez said the Young family lived in the rental unit for more than a year. In addition to being without gas and electric, a water pipe broke in the home recently, Dominguez said.
Neighbors mourn children
The fatal fire was emotional for neighbors in the community.
"It's the saddest (situation) in the world," said Bobby Strong, who lives across the street from the Youngs.
Strong said he held his own children and cried after the blaze.
Dominguez said his children often played with children from the Young family.
"Really, really good kids," he said.
Nicki Flick, another neighbor, described the Young family as close and friendly.
"You never saw one of (the parents) without the kids," Flick said.
She said the family was "always laughing and playing and joking" when they regularly played in their yard.
"They are a good little family," Flick said.
School City of Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins said one of the children who escaped the blaze and the child who wasn't at the residence during the incident are students at Irving Elementary.
"We certainly organized our crisis team and they were at the school this morning," Watkins said. "What we do will depend on the followup information from our crisis team. The family will need lots of support, and we will help out in whatever way we can. We will pull together as a school community to help the survivors of this tragedy."
The American Red Cross of Northwest Indiana was at the fire scene Thursday. The organization is providing assistance to Rice and her family.
Times staff writer Carmen McCollum contributed to this report.