NOW:53214:USA01012
http://widgets.journalinteractive.com/cache/JIResponseCacher.ashx?duration=5&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdata.wp.myweather.net%2FeWxII%2F%3Fdata%3D*USA01012
72°
H 84° L 59°
Clear | 6MPH

Investigations begin into cause of fatal West Allis fire

2 teen boys died in blaze; firefighters tell of intensity, crumbling ceiling

Classmates gather near a memorial outside the home where two boys were killed early Sunday morning in a West Allis house fire.

Classmates gather near a memorial outside the home where two boys were killed early Sunday morning in a West Allis house fire. Photo By Rick Wood

March 18, 2013

West Allis - Snow fell on a West Allis duplex Monday, chilling what had been an inferno just a day before.

The state Division of Criminal Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating a fire early Sunday that killed two teenage boys.

The agencies together with the West Allis police and fire departments have not determined the cause of the fire - described by many firefighters as the most intense residential blaze they have battled.

Snowflakes collected inside candles depicting religious icons and wax hardened. Tapers had flickered Sunday night in memory of the two 14-year-old victims and stood cold Monday in makeshift memorials outside the duplex in the 1600 block of S. 57th St.

It took firefighters less than four minutes to respond after the fire was reported at about 3:30 a.m.

"The flames were on the entire second floor and were spreading to the attic. Firefighters knew through dispatch reports there were children in the attic," said West Allis Fire Lt. Jay Scharfenberg.

Firefighters from West Allis, Greenfield, Wauwatosa and Brookfield went through the second floor, where the fire is believed to have started, to try to reach the attic, he said.

"It is very difficult in a situation like this. It's emotional and very traumatic for the firefighters. There was too much fire. The ceiling collapsed on them," Scharfenberg said.

"They kept hitting the fire, pushed it back, but then it came roaring back at them," he said.

Scharfenberg said Monday that state regulations mandate that the state fire marshal, under the Division of Criminal Investigation, be notified in certain circumstances, such as serious or fatal injuries, and that the division typically works with the ATF.

The state and federal agencies' involvement with the investigation is not indicative of a cause, he said.

West Allis Assistant Fire Chief Martin King said two residents, a man and a woman, were in the lower duplex unit. They heard a smoke alarm and smelled smoke.

The man went upstairs and kicked in the door. Two of the children, 13-year-old Joel Gonzales and his 4-year-old brother Kendall, were heading out, and the man helped them, King said.

In the meantime, the woman went to the basement to get a fire extinguisher, but the blaze was too strong for her to use it, King said.

King said the fire was too intense for the couple to go back inside, but the 13-year-old did re-enter and tried to save his 14-year-old brother, Michael. He was not successful.

Joel Gonzales and Kendall were taken to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa to be treated for smoke inhalation and are expected to recover. Michael Gonzales and his friend, Isaiha Kobow, 14, identified during a vigil Sunday night, died in the blaze. The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office will determine the positive identification of victims as well as cause and manner of death, which is still under investigation, according to a West Allis police news release.

Pavielle Gonzales, a cousin of the three brothers, told the Journal Sentinel on Sunday that the boys had been celebrating Joel Gonzales' 13th birthday, which had occurred a few days earlier, at their mother's duplex residence.

Neither she nor any other adult was present in the upstairs portion of the duplex when the fire broke out, West Allis Acting Police Chief Charles Padgett said Monday.

Kobow was a student at West Milwaukee Intermediate School, and district counselors converged on the building at 7 a.m. Monday to offer students support, said Principal Jeffrey Taylor.

"He was a great kid and one of us. He played basketball and was one of those guys. He will be missed," Taylor said.

Taylor said parents who speak to their children about these types of situations should let the children get their feelings out.

"Kids are resilient, but you have to give them a forum," he said.

Michael Gonzales was a student in the Milwaukee Public Schools district, which issued a statement Monday.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our students. Today, we made students at the school aware of the availability of crisis team counselors and some students did make use of those services. The thoughts of the MPS family are with the student's family and friends," spokesman Tony Tagliavia wrote in an email.

The first floor of the duplex had a working smoke detector. A smoke detector was found on the second floor, however it was damaged by the fire and it is unknown if it was working at the time of the fire. These types of fires serve as a reminder for everyone to make sure a working smoke detector is present on every level of a house, King said.

"Investigators are considering all aspects of the circumstances surrounding this incident," Padgett wrote in an email.

This site uses Facebook comments to make it easier for you to contribute. If you see a comment you would like to flag for spam or abuse, click the "x" in the upper right of it. By posting, you agree to our Terms of Use.

Suburban News Roundup

E-mail Newsletter

Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.


Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter
Get the Newsletter!

Login or Register to manage all your newsletter preferences.

Community Watch

» The Suburban 16 Power Rankings: Watt, Niebrugge, and others on the next level 7/22

» Greenfield denies Goodwill store but maybe not for long 7/22

» Initial Reaction Podcast: A dumb-sports-fan's guide to the Bucks arena financing situation 7/21

» West Allis school officials worry parents can't monitor iPads 7/20

» Whitnall baseball team uses big fifth inning to stun Muskego in regional title contest 7/17

» Fortman pitches Franklin past Greenfield in WIAA regional championship baseball game 7/17

» Major development in Greenfield hits snag 7/16

» Greenfield's Bella Matthias headlines the 2015 All-Suburban Softball Team 7/16

» New St. Vincent de Paul store in Greenfield receives blessing 7/15

» Hale nips New Berlin West, 2-1, in regional opener 7/14

» Walker announces presidential run in Waukesha among hometown Wauwatosa supporters 7/13

» Greenfield ready to move ahead with Kulwicki Park maintenance 7/13

» West Allis considers request to allow pot-bellied pigs in city 7/13

» West Allis police seek man in attempted sexual assault 7/10

» Menomonee Falls wins GMC baseball tourney title, 8-6, over Hale 7/9

» Applicants sought for Whitnall facilities advisory committee 7/6

» Beekeeping idea is abuzz in Greenfield 7/6

» Accident causes two lanes of I-894/US 45 to close 7/1

» Blindness couldn't keep Hojnicki off the links or the slopes Updated:  6/24

» Concordia Legion post to assemble care packages 6/18

» Proposed West Allis sewer lateral help program may be dead 6/17

» Greenfield reschedules hearing on proposed Goodwill on 76th Street 6/16

» Whitnall School District facilities advisory committee taking shape 6/15

» Behavioral network recognizes 16 West Allis-West Milwaukee schools 6/11

» Greenfield principal resigning to go to Kettle Moraine schools 6/11

View All Posts Got a tip? Welcome rss

Advertisement

Advertisement

Local Business Directory

CONNECT