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Girl, 12, charged with murder, arson Stepgrandfather died in Sprenger Street fire

The 12-year-old stepgranddaughter of a Sprenger Avenue man who died in a fire early Friday at his house was charged with deliberately setting the blaze.

The girl, whose name was withheld because of her age, was taken into custody by Buffalo police homicide detectives just after 6:30 p.m. and charged with two counts of second-degree murder and first-degree arson in the death of Vincent Fairfax, 43.

Firefighters arriving at 125 Sprenger shortly after 4:15 a.m. discovered the two-story home engulfed in flames. Neighbors said four people, including two children, were calling for help from the second-floor porch as flames shot out the windows of the house. They were rescued by firefighters.

Fairfax was pronounced dead at the scene.

"There was a trail of some kind of flammable liquid [the suspect] used on the first floor," Deputy Fire Commissioner Patrick T. Lewis said.

Lewis said the liquid was apparently poured in the kitchen, outside a bedroom and dining room area. Investigators from the Buffalo Fire Marshal's office and Buffalo Police Homicide Unit questioned children and other members of the family.

Sources close to the investigation said the suspect also doused an 11-year-old boy asleep in the house with the liquid, waking him up. She told him he'd better get out or he'd "burn with the rest of them," said the source, who added that the suspect also led a girl with cerebral palsy out of the house before setting it on fire.

Investigators said the girl admitted to setting the fire. However, they refused to release any details about the girl's motive.

The girl is expected to be charged as an adult. She was taken into custody and placed in a juvenile detention facility.

Fire officials believe Fairfax and his wife, Gennie Booker-Fairfax, were both in a first-floor bedroom when the fire broke out.

"He was behind his wife [in trying to get out], and she doesn't know what happened to him," Deputy Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. said Friday.

There were two doorways out of the bedroom, fire officials said. Booker-Fairfax fled from a bathroom doorway that was attached to the bedroom and escaped out the back of the house, but Fairfax apparently tried to escape through the dining room.

"He went out the dining room door and flames hit him. He collapsed right away," Lewis said.

Firefighters found him face-down in the bedroom.. "Two firefighters got him out of there, but it was too late," Lewis said.

Fire officials and neighbors said they believe as many as 11 members of the family lived in the house, which is south from Genesee Street and east of Bailey Avenue. Two adults, two children and a dog were rescued from the second-floor porch by firefighters from Engine 31, who extended a ladder to the roof of the sun porch, Lewis said. Four more family members, including Fairfax's wife, fled from the first floor.

"[His wife] was outside screaming, 'My husband is in there, my husband is in there,' " said Jessie Jacobs, who lives next door at 121 Sprenger.

"It's sad -- real sad," added Jacobs, explaining she was only a casual acquaintance of the family. "I'm used to seeing him outside here putting the kids on the [school] bus."

The flames raged out of the south side of the house, melting the siding on Jacobs' home. Damage to her house was put at $5,000.

The American Red Cross assisted four adults and four children. The fire caused $85,000 damage.

News Staff Reporter Gene Warner contributed to this report.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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