Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Racine, Wis. — Debrah Scott nearly lost her life in a house fire when she was a little girl. Her face still bears some of the scars of that blaze in which she and her sister were rescued, friends and family members said.
Just before 1 a.m. Thursday, Scott, now 28, ran across the street to the home of her parents in the 1900 block of Linden Ave. She banged on the door and called the Fire Department from there. Now her house was on fire, her four children were trapped - and she could hear them screaming, Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen said.
"She was coughing and said she tried to rescue the kids but couldn't because of the smoke and heat," he said. Firefighters arrived four minutes later. Amid intense smoke and heat they broke through an outside window and found the children in a bedroom, Hansen said.
The screams had stopped. Two girls, whom family members identified as Dayja Scott, 9, and Dalijah Scott, 8, both died after being taken to Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-All Saints Hospital. Their brothers, Michael, 7, and Luther, 5, were transferred to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa. Their conditions were not known.
"Luther is doing better, but Michael may have some issues," William Scott Jr., their uncle who lives nearby, said Thursday afternoon.
An adult male who was found inside the home also was taken to the hospital, Hansen said.
Immediately after the fourth child was removed from the building, four firefighters dropped from exhaustion and had to be treated, he said. After being treated, the fire- fighters returned to duty, he said.
The fire is believed to have started in the bathroom, and the heat was so intense that it melted some glass, Hansen said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. The house had smoke detectors, but it's unclear if they were operating, Hansen said. Electricity to the home had been turned off last week, he said.
At one point all of the city's Fire Department resources, including 24 firefighters, nine paramedics and three paramedics from the South Shore Fire Department, were on the scene of the fire, he said.
As the day progressed Thursday, bouquets of balloons were brought to the home, along with teddy bears, rosaries and cards of condolences.
William Scott said that things had been difficult for his sister, but that she had recently started a new job cleaning at the Racine Marriott hotel and was "getting things together."
Her children mean the world to her, he said.
"She loves her kids and always makes sure they have what they need," William Scott said.
Dayja was supposed to go on a field trip Thursday to see a play in Milwaukee with her classmates from Fratt Elementary School, and Debrah Scott had laid out her clothes, he said. The school canceled the field trip, he said.
Debrah Scott and her sister came to live with William Scott's family as foster children after the fire that nearly claimed their lives, he said.
He was in the eighth grade at the time. His family later adopted the two girls, he said.
Linden Ave. is a short block where children today play on the sidewalk, run and ride their bikes, just like he and his siblings did when he lived on the block, William Scott said.
Ruth Ann Fennell, 73, who lives just a few doors down from where Thursday's deadly fire occurred, was awakened by the flashing lights of firefighting units in the middle of the night, just as she was on Sept. 20, 1989, when three young children died in a house fire next door.
The fire that night - was reported about 11 p.m. - was caused by a gasoline can left on a back stairway that was tipped over, fell down to the basement and was ignited by a pilot light, said Hansen, who remembered that tragic incident as well.
Fennell said the fire was so hot that it melted the caulk on her windows. The burned-out house was gutted and rebuilt.
She still fondly, and sadly, remembers Hailey Underwood, the little girl who had just celebrated her 10th birthday and who died in the fire with two other young children in her family.
When Fennell saw the flashing emergency lights again Thursday night, she put on her bathrobe and sat on her porch in the cold night air, just like she did during the fire in 1989.
But she didn't go a few doors down to where the fire was being battled.
"I remember the firefighters carrying out the three little bodies," she said. "And remember the three little caskets at the funeral. You never forget. The memories never go away."
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