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February blaze claims a third life as 8-year-old Treasure dies

For 65 days, Treasure Brighon fought for her life.

The 8-year-old girl was burned over nearly 90 percent of her body on Feb. 19, when a fire ripped through her family’s apartment on Humber Avenue. Demetrius Johnson, her mother’s fiancé, who was like a father to Treasure, died in the blaze trying to save her and her family.

On Sunday, Treasure died at Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati, where she had been in the pediatric burn center for treatment of the devastating injuries suffered in the fire.

“I can’t believe it,” her heartbroken mother, Tempest Thomas, said Monday morning by phone from the hospital.

Treasure’s death brings the death toll from the fire to three. In addition to the little girl and Johnson, another tenant in the house, Juan Montanez, was killed in the blaze.

Fire authorities announced Monday afternoon, after winding up their investigation, that they had determined that the cause of the fire was accidental. Faulty electrical wiring behind the first-floor kitchen gas stove sparked the fire, said Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr. “It compromised the gas line behind the stove,” he said.

Whitfield added that fire marshals interviewed the owner of the property and determined there was no reason to charge him. “There were maintenance complaints but we could not come up with anything to corroborate that,” he said.

Thomas detailed to The Buffalo News about problems her family noticed at their apartment, which they had moved into about two weeks before the fire. Thomas said many electrical sockets didn’t work and that anytime they’d use the dishwasher, the fuses would blow and power would go out to the refrigerator. Also, a power line fell next to the house.

The commissioner also said there were some smoke alarms in the residence but because of the extensive damage, investigators could not determine if they were operational.

“It was a terrible, terrible fire,” he said.

Thomas said she couldn’t remember hearing any smoke alarms.

Whitfield answered questions about why it took more than two months for the cause of the fire to be determined.

“There is no set amount of time on an investigation,” he said. “Sometimes investigations take years.”

He called the girl’s death “a tremendous tragedy,” and urged the public to take the opportunity to make sure smoke alarms in their homes are functioning properly.

Risk for infections

From the day Treasure was flown to Shriners, the odds were against her.

She was getting highly specialized care at the Cincinnati hospital, which has one of the few pediatric burn units in the country. But Treasure was burned over 87.5 percent of her body. With so much of her skin destroyed, she was at extreme risk for infections, respiratory problems and other complications. There was a time when no one survived burns over 50 percent of the body but burn treatment has made major strides in recent years.

On the night of the fire, Thomas recalled waking up to the smell of smoke and the cries of her daughter.

Johnson found Treasure on the floor in the middle of the first-floor apartment and scooped her up in his arms. Thomas believes her daughter walked right into the flames.

She said Johnson carried the girl to the entrance of the house where Thomas had her youngest son in her arms. Johnson went back in to find their other son, 3-year-old DeMetrius, while Thomas got the baby and her daughter across the street.

Firefighters made their way into the burning house and found the little boy unconscious on the couch. A few minutes later, they found Johnson near the couch. The little boy had suffered some smoke inhalation, but was out of the hospital in a few days. It was too late for Johnson.

Treasure was rushed to Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, where she was prepared for the helicopter flight to Shriners.

Her mother followed her there a few hours later and had been traveling back and forth ever since between Ohio and Buffalo, where her two younger children are being cared for by their maternal grandmother.

All along, Treasure had been listed in critical condition. She endured multiple skin graft procedures, using cadaver skin as well as her own, which was stretched out to cover more of her body. Doctors had to amputate the tips of some of her fingers but were trying to save her hands.

She faced a difficult future. As a child, her body was still growing, which meant she would have continued to need more operations until she was an adult.

‘She is alert’

Treasure had been showing small signs of improvement, her mother said. About a month ago, Thomas reported her daughter was conscious. She could not talk yet, but that was because of a tube in her throat that was helping her breathe.

“She can open her eyes,” she said. “She is alert.”

Thomas was happy for her daughter’s progress but worried about having to eventually tell her that Johnson, whom Treasure lovingly called “Big Homie,” had died in the fire.

On Saturday, Treasure was able to sit up in her hospital bed, Thomas said.

And to Thomas’ surprise, her daughter mouthed to her: “I love you.”

Thomas told her she loved her back. “She was moving her mouth,” Thomas said. “I could barely hear her. She gave me a kiss.”

Sunday morning, Treasure was able to sit up again but she suddenly fell ill. Thomas wasn’t clear on exactly what happened but fluid was building up in her lungs.

Doctors worked on her daughter as her condition rapidly deteriorated. On Sunday night, Treasure’s heart stopped, Thomas said. Doctors were able to revive her. But her heart stopped again and there was nothing more they could do.

She died at 11:17 p.m.

“I never thought that would be my last time with her,” Thomas said. “Never. Never.”

While Treasure was being treated at the hospital, Thomas had asked for the public’s help in finding a house to bring her home to in Buffalo. She says she no longer needs that now.

“I don’t want a house or anything. Help me get my daughter a proper burial,” she said.

Monday, she was working on how to get her Treasure back to Buffalo for a funeral and burial.

To help Thomas, donations can be made to her account in her name, Tempest Thomas, at First Niagara Bank branches.

Before Treasure passed, Thomas wrote about her daughter in an email: “May I say, Treasure is my loveliest children, my oldest, my only daughter. She makes my day. She loves to dance and is very caring. She loves to make people smile.”

She said her daughter loved dogs. “She will walk up to any dog.”

Treasure, she said, “is a brave little girl with the heart of gold. As a mom, I’m proud to always say she’s my daughter.”

News Staff Reporter Lou Michel contributed to this report. email: mbecker@buffnews.com