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Covered door prevents escape in fatal fire

Image: Trailer fire
Roberto Lopez holds a photograph of his niece Vanessa Gomez, who was one of four killed when a fire swept through ar trailer home, Wednesday, April 9, 2008 in Fairmont, Ill. Tim Vizer / Belleville News-Democrat
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fire swept through a trailer home, killing a woman, her two children and her uncle who were unable to flee because the back door had been improperly covered over by vinyl siding, the police chief said.

The woman's husband managed to escape the Tuesday night inferno in this St. Louis suburb by breaking out and crawling through a window in a rear bedroom, only to find his efforts to re-enter the home thwarted by intense flames and smoke, police Chief Scott Penny said.

The family had moved into the home in the HavaHome Mobile Home Park on Saturday without getting a required inspection of its fitness for occupancy, Penny said. The house never would have passed until vinyl siding covering the back door — the only possible exit available to the victims because of the flames — was removed, the chief said.

"There was only one way out (through the front door), and the fire was blocking that," Penny said. "It's a very sad case."

Penny said the body of 24-year-old Olivia Jarillo-Gomez was found in her rear bedroom, while her 54-year-old uncle, Joseph Garcia, was found dead in the living room where he'd been staying.

Gomez's children — Vanessa Gomez, 4, and Roman Gomez, 2 — were pulled unresponsive from their bedroom by firefighters who hacked a hole in a side wall with axes. They died at an area hospital, Penny said.

Ivan Olizaran-Gomez — Gomez's husband and the children's father — was taken to a hospital for treatment for cuts and burns considered serious but not life-threatening, Penny said.

Penny said the family was sleeping when Ivan Gomez and his wife were awakened by their children's crying about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Flames that had engulfed the living room prevented the couple from reaching their children's bedroom, the chief said.

The couple retreated to their bedroom, where Ivan Gomez broke out a window and crawled headfirst to safety outside, Penny said. When his wife didn't follow, Gomez knocked out other windows in search of a way back into the house, but heat and smoke frustrated that, Penny said.

State fire investigators were trying to pinpoint what sparked the blaze.

Police said they were investigating liability issues but added that the family had made a down payment to buy the mobile home and it had been their responsibility to get it inspected.