The 7-year-old boy who died in a raging apartment house fire Sunday morning on Fillmore Avenue has been tentatively identified as Alexavier Torres-Santiago, Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr. said this afternoon.
Six other family members fled to safety when the fast-moving fire raged through the second floor of the house.
The little boy was found dead in the rubble by Buffalo firefighters who had a tough time getting into the building at 1400 Fillmore.
“Even though there looks to be a lot of damage in one part of the house, our fire marshals are sifting through the rubble throughout the house,” Whitfield said, in referring to the heavy damage on the second floor of the 2½-story wood-frame house.
Those who escaped the fire were Alexavier’s father, Carlos Rodriguez; his mother, Sara Santiago-Delgado; two sisters, ages 11 and 6; a brother, 9; and another man, whose name and relationship to the family was not available.
All were taken to Women & Children’s Hospital and released after treatment for smoke inhalation and abrasions.
Authorities said there is nothing suspicious about the cause of the blaze.
The tragedy rocked people who live and work in the East Side neighborhood. The apartment house is less than 100 yards away from Mattie’s, a popular Fillmore Avenue restaurant that does a bustling breakfast and lunch trade every Sunday.
“Everybody’s been talking about it, all the workers and customers, all day. It’s just so sad,” restaurant worker Tasha Watkins said late Sunday afternoon. “That poor little boy.”
“I saw his body on a stretcher, with a little white sheet over it,” said another Mattie’s employee, Greg Baker. “I watched them put it into the morgue wagon. Man, that shook me. I can’t get that sight out of my mind.”
City police and fire officials were releasing little information about the tragedy Sunday afternoon and evening, except to say that the flames apparently started on the second floor shortly before 7 a.m., causing an estimated $120,000 damage to the large wood-frame house.
Six family members – three adults and three children – escaped from the burning house, but authorities would not say how they got out or why the boy was unable to get out. The three children who did escape were treated for smoke inhalation at Women & Children’s Hospital.
Volunteers from the American Red Cross are assisting the family.
“They’re understandably devastated. I can only imagine what they are going through,” Jay Bonafede, Buffalo spokesman for the Red Cross, said Sunday evening. “They are going to stay with family members. We are providing vouchers for food and clothing, and also access to trained professionals to help them deal with this.”
Sunday night, city fire marshals continued efforts to determine the cause of the fire, which decimated the second floor of the large apartment house, which sits at the corner of Fillmore and Woeppel Street.
Although fire officials listed a damage estimate of $120,000 to the house, Erie County property records show that it was sold for just $10,000 in January 2012. The seller was listed in county records as Amin B. Falein and the buyer as Ali Hamoudi.
“I am very sorry to hear about this,” Falein, the former owner, told The Buffalo News. Falein said the house was “in very good shape” when he sold it to Hamoudi, but said he had to sell it for $10,000 because the East Side real estate market was not doing well.
Falein said that it was his understanding that – until recently, at least – Hamoudi was living in the house. Hamoudi could not be reached for comment.
Although they did not know the name of the family that was living in the house, Watkins, Baker and three other Mattie’s workers all recalled seeing the family’s four children getting off the school bus and playing outside.
“They kept to themselves, but if you waved to them or said hello, they’d be really friendly,” Baker said. “They seemed like nice little kids. This really hits home for me because I saw them playing outside, just Friday. They all looked so happy. I have three grandkids of my own, so this really bothers me.”
He said he believes the family moved into the house a few months ago.
Walter Griffin, a cook at Mattie’s, was one of the first to spot the fire when he arrived for work at 7 a.m.
“The Fire Department was just getting there, and there were all kinds of flames up on the second floor,” Griffin said. “That fire was really moving fast.”
Some neighborhood residents speculated that the boy could not get out of the house because he was sleeping in the area where the flames originated.
Fire officials said firefighters had to back away from the flames at one point, because part of the building was starting to collapse onto the side yard.
“I think the little boy may have panicked,” said Arlee Daniels Jr. of the Buffalo Stop The Violence Coalition. “The house was filled with smoke. I think he probably lost his direction and couldn’t get out.”
“That’s a really big house, and it was a really bad fire,” said Watkins. “I just think that little boy got trapped.”
The fire caused an additional $20,000 damage to a house next door, at 1392 Fillmore, authorities said.
News Staff Reporter Lou Michel contributed to this report.