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Father on trying to save trapped family from fire: 'There was pretty much nothing I could do'

A 26-year-old woman and her 4-year-old niece are dead and an 8-year-old boy is in critical condition after an overnight, two-alarm fire at 231 Shirley Ave., Buffalo police said.

Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said the family and a visiting aunt all were pulled from the home by firefighters. The mother and father escaped out of a second-floor window and at one point were on the roof of the front porch.

The father, Robert Jones of Buffalo, today identified the deceased as his 4-year-old daughter Cianna Jones and his sister, Briana Ross, 26. He said his stepson, 8-year-old G'Shawn McGee, was badly injured in the fire, as was his fiancee and the children's mother, Shawniqua Johnson.

A neighbor told The Buffalo News the mother went back into the burning house to try and save her children.

Jones, the father, was awakened by a smoke detector and was trying to gather everyone up to escape when the power went out and he lost track of family members in the dark, Renaldo told reporters at a news conference.

"I walked down the stairs because I thought maybe somebody left the oven on or something," Jones told reporters in front of the home Friday afternoon. "When I got to the stairs, I couldn't even go down the stairs. It was too smoky."

Cianna Jones and her brother G'Shawn McGee (Photo courtesy of family)

He woke everyone up and told them to follow him out of the house.

"Everybody was up. Everybody was alert," Jones said. The plan was to climb out a window in his son's bedroom, overlooking the porch roof.

"By the time we got into the room the lights went out, so we couldn't see," Jones said. "We all almost died, because it took me a while to find the window. Once I got out, I got my girl (fiancée) out. My son was right behind me. I'm like, 'Follow my voice, follow my voice.' "

But the children didn't. Both had asthma, which Jones said probably handicapped them in the heavy smoke.

"He was right behind us," Jones said of his stepson. "He said, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe.' "

A passer-by in a black car stopped and placed a city garbage tote in front of the porch for Jones to jump onto.

"I ran to the side door and tried to open it, but it was just engulfed in flames everywhere. I went to the front door and the ceiling was on fire," Jones said. "There was pretty much nothing I could do but wait for the fire department."

Firefighters helped Johnson off the porch roof.

During the escape attempt, "I never heard no response from my daughter or my sister," Jones said. "I know they both was up and alert. I don't even know where they found them at."

Jones said his other son, Robert Jr., wasn't home because the boy was staying with his grandmother overnight.

"He was attempting to get the whole family out of that second-story window, but unfortunately they didn't make it," the commissioner said.

Firefighters, who rescued five people from the burning home, found the two children in a rear bedroom on the second floor.

The first floor was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived at the house a little more than a minute after the fire was reported at 1:20 a.m. Friday, Renaldo said. The aunt, later identified as Ross, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo tells reporters about the Shirley Avenue fire during a morning news conference. (Aaron Besecker/Buffalo News)

G'Shawn, who was burned over 80 percent of his body, is being treated at Oishei Children's Hospital. Robert Jones was treated for smoke inhalation and released from Erie County Medical Center; Shawniqua Johnson also suffered smoke inhalation and is still hospitalized in ECMC.

Shantiqua Ridgeway, who lives next door, said she was driving home after helping her mother move into a new apartment and smelled smoke blocks away. She saw fire trucks from down the street and thought it might have been her house that was burning.

She said the family of five moved in near the beginning of summer. Ridgeway, who has a 4- and a 5-year-old, 8-year-old twins and a 1-year-old, said her kids played with Cianna. “She was a sweet little girl,” Ridgeway said. "My heart hurts."

Buffalo Fire investigators are still investigating the cause but believe the fire started in the rear of the first floor of the home, in the kitchen area.

Jones said a firefighter told him the cause was probably electrical.

"This is a nightmare and it's nobody's fault," Jones said. "Innocent people died. Innocent people died. My baby girl is gone. My sister is gone. My son is in a hospital fighting for his life now. My girl (fiancée) is in a hospital pretty much fighting for her life."

“Obviously, it’s a tragic event,” Renaldo said. Some newer firefighters who aren’t as experienced as veterans are dealing with tough emotions. “Several of them are having a really hard time with it.”


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