A 23-year-old East Side mother died Friday afternoon from burns suffered when she apparently tried to save her critically injured three-year-old son from a raging early-morning fire in their Timon Street home, fire officials said.
The mother had escaped with her fiance and their two-year-old son but is believed to have gone back inside the burning home when she realized their older child was not outside. He was listed in extremely critical condition late Friday, suffering from smoke inhalation.
Firefighters pulled the mother, identified by sources as Lequeisha Watkins, and son, Malachi Norman, from a rear bedroom in their first-floor apartment at 174 Timon St. not long after responding to the 12:25 a.m. alarm.
“Our personnel were able to push inside to the rear of the building, and we found the 23-year-old mother and her three-year-old son. They were down and we brought them out,” Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. “We can never control the results, life and death. We can only do the best we can and that’s what our guys did.”
Rescue One Firefighter Kevin Scott was credited with removing the woman and Ladder 14 Firefighter Dave Smith, on temporary assignment with Engine 21, removed the three-year-old.
The boy is at Women & Children’s Hospital, and his mother died at Erie County Medical Center, where she had been on life support. Watkins’ fiance, Berry Norman Jr., and the younger boy, whose name was not immediately available, escaped without injury.
“The couple were engaged to be married and were talking about eloping,” Whitfield said. “They were very much in love and had known each other since they were nine years old and had been together for years.”
From the front porch of his home across the street from the fire scene, Dre-yvon Martinez stared over the charred pile of rubble that only hours earlier was the home of his friends and their children.
“She’d do anything for her children,” said a downcast Martinez, who had known the victim for about three years since moving to the neighborhood. The victim had previously lived down the street before moving into the lower apartment across the street from his home just a couple of months ago.
Martinez said he left his home briefly about midnight “and everything was fine.”
“Fifteen minutes later, I came back and the whole front was on fire,” he said, adding that it wasn’t surprising that the victim ran back into the burning home after realizing her son was still inside.
“That’s what a mother’s intuition would do,” Martinez said, noting the victim was dedicated to her children. “She’d do anything for them,” he said.
A memorial consisting of stuffed teddy bears, roses, other flowers and a small red heart balloon that said “I Love You” was tied to a tree outside the burned debris of the house.
The deadly fire, which destroyed a total of three homes, was one of three two-alarm blazes that firefighters battled throughout Friday.
Shortly after 3 a.m., firefighters were called to a West Side boarding house, attached to the old Royal Pheasant restaurant on the 400 block of Forest Avenue, where a fire left 27 residents homeless.
Many of them were camped out in a temporary shelter Friday in the basement of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Buffalo as Red Cross workers made arrangements to place them in temporary housing, according to Red Cross spokesman Jay Bonafede.
All of the residents made it out safely, but the structure, which for decades has been a boarding house, was destroyed and is expected to be demolished, authorities said. Mixology Buffalo Tavern was operating out of the front of the building.
“Most of the residents were left with nothing, not even jackets or shoes, and we have set up drop-off points for clothing and toiletry items,” said Nancy Singh, the owner of the building.
Donations can be taken to Harbor House, a homeless drop-in shelter at 130 Genesee St., from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. seven days a week or to Empowerment Academy, 327 Elm St., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Singh, who works with the downtrodden at the Restoration Society, stood outside the fire-gutted 3½-story building Friday morning with tears in her eyes as she told why she purchased the boarding house four years ago.
“I’ve dedicated my life to low-income people and working with those with mental health conditions. I bought this place because I wanted them to have a clean, quiet and dignified place to live,” Singh said. “Too often, they are put in deplorable living conditions.”
At the Timon Street fire, four other residents – two adults and two children – in the second-floor apartment at 174 Timon were able to evacuate on their own, fire officials said, and they also received assistance from the Red Cross.
Residents on this block of Timon, between Best and Dodge streets, moved cautiously on ice-slicked sidewalks from water that had doused the fire, in order to get a closer look at the devastation.
“You hear the words ‘burned to the ground,’ but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said neighbor Angela James as she stared at what amounted to a pile of charred rubble, except for one rear corner of the house.
The fire, which caused an estimated $85,000 in damage to the couple’s home, was believed to have started in the first-floor kitchen toward the back of the 2½-story, wood-frame house. The fiance of the victim, awoke to the blaze, while the second-floor residents awoke to the sound of a smoke alarm.
Fire marshals called in a city backhoe to pick through the debris later Friday as they attempted to learn what caused the blaze.
Gloria Molet, who lives a few doors away, said the first-floor family had moved into the home a couple months ago.
“The firemen got the mother and child out and that’s a blessing,” she said. “I have new respect for firefighters.”
Another neighbor who witnessed the fire said that a hydrant on Timon was not functioning and firefighters had to tap into a hydrant on Best Street.
Damage was placed at $25,000 at 170 Timon and $50,000 at 176 Timon. All three homes were expected to be razed in emergency demolitions.
Joe Hyla, the owner of 170 Timon, said the residence had been unoccupied but he had planned to fix it up.
The home at 176 Timon was abandoned, fire officials said.
Over on Forest Avenue, fire marshals were continuing to investigate the cause of that blaze, which was believed to have started in the rear living section of the structure. Damage was set at $125,000.
Lawrence Ester, one resident who returned later Friday morning to the scene to salvage some electronic equipment, said it’s surprising no one was hurt.
He was in his second-floor unit when he heard a smoke alarm go off. He figured someone had set it off by smoking a cigarette until he heard a woman screaming: “Get out! Get out!”
Ester opened his front door and smoke billowed in. He fled the fire down a fire escape.
The other two-alarm blaze occurred at 12:46 p.m. Friday in a repair garage at 466 Franklin St., on the fringe of downtown.
A welding machine is believed to have caused that fire, which spread to a second-floor apartment. No injuries were reported and damage was set at $90,000.
And, damage was put at $40,000 and the Red Cross was called to assist one resident after an afternoon fire in a 1½-story wood-frame home at 46 Rose St. on the East Side. The cause is under investigation.
News Staff Reporter T.J. Pignataro contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org