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Two children die, babysitter is injured in Greenfield house fire

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 3:51 p.m.
Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire firefighters climb the roof of a two-story duplex in Greenfield where fire took the lives of two children on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
A Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire firefighter bows his head in the aftermath of the blaze on Mirror Street in Greenfield that took the lives of two children on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

As Pittsburgh fire Lt. Gregory Niedermeyer crawled on his hands and knees through the thick, blinding smoke Friday afternoon, he hoped that reports of two young children trapped on the second floor of the home in Greenfield were false.

“I was praying, I was hoping that nobody was inside,” Niedermeyer said a few hours after he and his crew pulled the nearly lifeless body of one child out of a rear bedroom of the burning brick duplex on Mirror Street. “It was too hot. There was too much smoke.”

The child, Kamari Thomas, 4, was taken to UPMC Mercy, Uptown, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, fire Chief Darryl Jones said.

The boy's cousin, Irihanna Hayward, who would have celebrated her fourth birthday on Saturday, was found in an adjoining bedroom by fire Lt. Tim Leech and his crew from 13 Engine. She could not be resuscitated by city paramedics and died at the scene.

An aunt, Candice Pearson, 38, who was baby-sitting the children, remained hospitalized in critical condition at UPMC Mercy with back, neck and head injuries when she jumped from a third-story window to a cement patio, city police said.

Claudio Mazzariello, who lives on the other side of the duplex, had just finished eating a late lunch with a visiting friend from Italy, Nicola Di Bartolomeo, when he heard the haunting sounds of terrified children.

“We heard the beeping of the smoke detector and the kids screaming,” Mazzariello said. “We ran upstairs to where my son was sleeping and figured something bad was happening next door.”

Mazzariello helped his family get out while Di Bartolomeo ran next door.

“My friend tried to get back inside to help but couldn't make two steps inside the door. He tried to get in the back door but couldn't,” Mazzariello said.

“I looked out and saw all the smoke. Just as we got here, the flames started shooting out. The mother (of one of the children) came running up the street crying, ‘My babies! My babies! My babies!' She was in bad shape,” said Bud Roth, who lives on Mirror Street.

Frank Iozzo, who works with Tudi Mechanical Systems, was making a service call at Roth's home when he spotted the fire.

“I grabbed my fire extinguisher and came running down,” he said. “But it was too bad to get in. A black female who jumped out the back window was laying on the ground. Debris was falling off the house and a city police officer grabbed her, picked her up and carried her out front. The house was fully engulfed, I couldn't get anywhere near with my little fire extinguisher.”

Abbey Brown lives next door to the duplex.

“I was in my bedroom and I heard a lot of screaming,” Brown said. “I saw a lot of fire billowing out. Everything happened so fast. There was a lot of screaming. The mother was screaming, ‘My babies are inside! My babies are inside!' She was screaming at the top of her lungs. She was running up and down the street. The flames were billowing out of everywhere. It was actually scary. It was terrifying.”

Jones said 911 received the first call at 3:21 p.m. and that 12 Engine — with Niedermeyer and firefighters Thomas Santoriello, Ken Redinger and Jason McLean — arrived at the house about two minutes later.

“We searched along the walls on our hands and knees. There was no visibility up there. It was blinding,” Niedermeyer said. “I flipped the bed over because kids will hide under beds. I found the child, I believe the oldest one, next to the bed. He felt lifeless to me.”

Niedermeyer was badly shaken but continued to do his job after handing Thomas over to paramedics.

“It's tough. I have four children of my own. It's really tough,” Niedermeyer said.

Family members at UPMC Mercy were too distraught to talk. One woman collapsed to the ground outside the emergency room, weeping as she knelt, with another family member comforting her. City arson Detective Michael Burns said the fire started in the living room on the first floor but that the cause remains under investigation.

Workers from the American Red Cross were providing food, clothing and shelter to Mazzariello, his wife and friend and two children. The Salvation Army provided food and drinks to emergency workers.

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820 or Staff writers Bill Vidonic and Tony LaRussa contributed to this report.

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