Police: 3 children, man die in Chicago apartment fire

Chicago firefighters battle an apartment fire in the 8100 block of South Essex Avenue in the South Chicago neighborhood early on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. The fire at a Chicago apartment building that appears to have been deliberately set killed multiple people Tuesday, police said. (Alexandra Chachkevitch/Chicago Tribune via AP)

CHICAGO (AP) — A fire at a Chicago apartment building that appears to have been deliberately set killed four people Tuesday, including three children, police said.

It took around 200 firefighters three hours to put out the blaze, which began around 1:30 a.m. in a three-story building in the South Chicago neighborhood. Witnesses said they saw residents leap from windows to escape.

A preliminary investigation indicated a person returned to the building after a domestic dispute and set fire to the rear porch, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. Officers were searching for a “person of interest wanted for questioning,” he said.

An infant was pronounced dead at a hospital, and two other girls — ages 4 and 6 — and a man were found dead later on the third floor, said Deputy Fire Commissioner Arriel Gray.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the baby as 3-month-old Maline Watson.

Three other people were hospitalized, according to the Chicago Fire Department’s media office.

Arson investigators were on the scene.

“The fire was suspicious in nature. It’s under investigation,” Gray told reporters. He said the exterior and interior stairwells were burned out, preventing firefighters from attacking the fire from inside the building.

Witnesses told reporters they saw several people jumping from windows to escape.

Gray said it was unclear whether the baby was dropped from a window or brought down a ladder.

Witness Clay Turner said he saw a man screaming for help on the ground with the 3-month-old next to him. He told the Chicago Tribune he ran to them and tried to help.

“I’m just speechless,” Turner said.

A resident, 25-year-old Lanita Smith, told the newspaper that she woke up to loud noises and thought someone was breaking in to her apartment. But then she saw her kitchen door was on fire.

“The fire was upstairs and downstairs,” she said. “My whole porch was on fire.”

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