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Cause of killer blaze remains a mystery, fire commissioner says

The cause of a fire that killed two men and severely burned an eight-year-old girl is still unknown, Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield told reporters Friday afternoon.

A source identified Demitrius Johnson, 24, as the father who rescued his daughter from the burning house, and then died after going back into the burning home to rescue his two sons. The other fatality in the fire was a 49-year-old man who lived in the upstairs apartment. His name has not been released.

The children rescued from the fire at 90 Humber Ave. were Treasure Brighon, 8, who was severely burned over 90 percent of her body, and two boys, 15-month-old Demaris Johnson and three-year-old Demetrius Thomas Johnson.

Treasure, who suffered burns over 90 percent of her body, was taken to Women and Children’s Hospital and transferred to the Shriners Hospital burn care unit in Cincinnati. Demaris was treated and released from Women and Children’s Hospital; Demetrius is in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit being treated for smoke inhalation.

While the mother, Tempest Thomas, rescued Demaris, Whitfield said firefighters from Ladder 7 carried Demetrius out of the burning home.

The mother was unable to accompany Treasure on the flight but will be driving to Cincinnati to be with her daughter.

In the afternoon press conference at City Hall, Whitfield said officials were trying to be “respectful of the grieving process” in questioning those who escaped the fire about whether they heard smoke alarms.

Whitfield said two firefighters suffered minor burns and were treated and released at Erie County Medical Center.

Whitfield said “any time we lose a person in a fire, it’s very devastating not just to family but to community and first responders.”

Sharon Mack, a neighbor, woke up early Friday morning to a woman pounding on her door.

The woman was carrying her 15-month-old son and had just escaped her burning home across the street. The severely burned 8-year-old girl soon followed.

“She was burned from her head to her feet,” Mack said.

The mother yelled that her husband and another child were still in the big house at the corner of Humber and Litchfield avenues.

Mack said she could see burns to the girl’s hair and entire body. Her clothes had been burned off.

The girl was screaming in pain, Mack said. “It was just like a nightmare,” Mack said.

The father living in the downstairs apartment carried his eight-year-old daughter from the burning house.

He then “went back in searching for the rest of his family. He did not make it back out,” Whitfield said Friday morning.

A Buffalo police officer was the first responder at the scene and spoke to the father before the man went back inside, Whitfield said.

The second fatality was a man in the upstairs apartment, who was found in a bedroom, Whitfield said. A second person living in that apartment, identified by neighbors as the nephew of the dead man, was able to flee the fire.

The fire was reported shortly after 4 a.m. The house sustained severe damage.

“We will give it our due diligence,” Whitfield said, as to determining whether the home had working smoke detectors.

The family downstairs had just moved in about a week ago, a neighbor said, while the two in the upstairs apartment had moved in about two months ago.

Gary Matthews, who lives across street, said he’s never seen a building go up in flames that quickly. Matthews said his wife alerted him to fire and he saw smoke coming out of an attic window.

“By the time I put my robe on, the whole house was in flames,” he said.

The Red Cross is assisting four adults and four children.

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