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Published: Friday, 3/9/2007

Second grader dies in East Toledo fire; child is 2nd killed by blaze in 2007

BY CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An 8-year-old second grader died yesterday after a fire started by an electric heater spread thick, heavy smoke throughout her family s East Toledo house.

Abby Kerschner was the second child killed in a city fire this year. Her death occurred just hours after eight children died in a blaze in New York City, and less than two months after a 4-year-old boy died in a duplex fire on Floyd Street in central Toledo.

As Abby s family mourns, another central-city mother monitors the condition of her two daughters, who are listed in critical condition after an apartment fire Tuesday on West Bancroft Street.

Investigators said an electric heater started the fatal fire in a rear, three-season porch of this home on Burr Street in East Toledo. The accidental blaze caused $50,000 in damage.
Investigators said an electric heater started the fatal fire in a rear, three-season porch of this home on Burr Street in East Toledo. The accidental blaze caused $50,000 in damage.
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Fire officials said operational smoke detectors inside Abby s home, 1954 Burr St., could have saved her life.

It would have made a big difference, investigator Michael Smith said as he stood outside the 1 -story house, from which fire station No. 13 can be seen a short distance away.

Inside nearby Birmingham Elementary School, Abby s devastated schoolmates, teachers, counselors, and administrators talked about her death.

Some students, so overcome by grief, were allowed to go home with their parents.

Abby s classmates made cards for her family and wrote down their feelings, Principal Barb Guthrie said.

Abby was described as a good student who was engaging, enthusiastic, and had a great sense of humor. She shared funny stories, loved reading books, and was eager to illustrate the books she had read, according to a statement from the principal and two teachers.

Abby had an inquiring mind and loved experiments in science, it stated. Her peers always looked to her as an example, and her sweet nature had an effect on teachers and students alike.

The accidental blaze began in a rear, three-season porch and caused about $50,000 damage. The heater, used to warm the room, caught the sofa on fire, investigators said. Flames consumed the sofa and spread, they said.

Roses have been tucked into a front-porch railing at the Burr Street home where a fire killed an 8-year-old girl yesterday. Roses have been tucked into a front-porch railing at the Burr Street home where a fire killed an 8-year-old girl yesterday.
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Abby s mother, Angela Thompson, was sleeping with her 2-year-old son, Hector Flores III, in a first-floor bedroom. The boy stirred, awakening Ms. Thompson about 7:35 a.m., investigators said.

The 29-year-old mother coughed from the smoke. She told authorities she could hear Abby who had been sleeping upstairs yelling. But Ms. Thompson couldn t make it upstairs because the house was full of smoke.

She had no choice, investigator Smith said.

Ms. Thompson opened a front bedroom window and fled with her son. She yelled for help from neighbors, but no one came, Mr. Smith said.

One neighbor, Jennifer Hodges, said she didn t hear anything except sirens. She looked out and saw smoke in the back of Ms. Thompson s house.

Firefighters climbed a ladder over the front porch to the upstairs bedroom. They removed the window and found Abby inside by the window. She was taken to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead about 8:05 a.m., authorities said.

Firefighter Steve Swartz found Abby and brought her out of the house. He broke his hand during the rescue and was treated in Toledo Hospital, Fire Chief Mike Bell said.

Jeff Hartford, his wife, Rebecca, and two of their children talked about Abby as they walked back to their nearby home on Esther Street after expressing their condolences to the family.

She was fun-loving. She played with the kids all the time, Mrs. Hartford said.

The Hartford family, which includes three children ages 8 to 13, said they knew Abby for about six years.

By yesterday afternoon, windows at the Burr Street house were boarded. Three roses two red, one yellow were tucked in the front-porch railing. A pile of charred debris was just beyond a swing set in the side yard.

Similar scenes have been spotted in other parts of the city. In several cases, relatives tried to rescue their loved ones.

Aireana McClellan, 7, and her 5-year-old sister, Alayza, were in critical condition in Toledo Hospital after a blaze Tuesday in their apartment at 401 West Bancroft.

The girls mother, Latisha Miller, managed to get onto a small porch roof and drop her 4-year-old son to safety.

When she reached for the girls, they were gone. The mother then jumped off the roof.

Firefighters used axes to cut a hole in an adjacent apartment wall to reach the girls.

In January, 4-year-old Brandon Davis died after a fire at his family s duplex, 228 Floyd. His brother, Christopher Macklin, 17, helped three other siblings, ages 4 to 16, escape the burning building.

At least 35 children died in fires in Ohio last year, including two in Toledo, according to the state fire marshal s office.

Jamal McCollum, 4, and Sanaa Thomas, 3, died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning in an arson fire Nov. 11 at a home on St. John Avenue in North Toledo. Also killed were their relatives, Rose Mary Rosie McCollum, 52, and her 33-year-old daughter, Mary Rose McCollum.

Authorities said the blaze occurred after an argument between Mary Rose and her ex-boyfriend, Wayne Powell, who is charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder for each victim.

The indictment includes multiple death-penalty specifications for each of the deaths. He also is charged with aggravated arson.

While that case was arson, many fire deaths are caused by other means, such as cooking, heating equipment, and smoking materials.

Chief Bell said residents should keep heating sources away from common combustibles and should read the instructions on how such equipment works.

He also insisted residents need functional smoke detectors in their homes.

I think people really need to understand the importance of smoke detectors. People need to invest in smoke detectors and practice escape plans, Chief Bell said. The formula is simple. The implementation is very difficult.

Contact Christina Hall at: chall@theblade.com or 419-724-6007.



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