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Toddler Treading Water Miraculously Survives Fire

Toddler Treading Water Miraculously Survives Fire

Source: Associated Press

Philadelphia Inquirer via YellowBrix

August 27, 2010

TRENTON – Call Augustine Pope a miracle toddler.

About an hour after falling asleep in a Trenton basement, he awoke to flames and smoke clogging the air early Thursday. As at least four others escaped the house, Augustine got trapped in the basement, which began to fill with water as firefighters fought the blaze.

Somehow, he stayed afloat as the fire gutted the house. His 7-year-old cousin died upstairs.

Two hours into fighting the three-alarm blaze – for reasons he can’t explain – a 32-year veteran firefighter shined a flashlight into a basement window. The toddler looked back.

Neighbors cheered when a firefighter brought Augustine out of the home. Trenton firefighters and family of the Liberian natives who lived in the home hailed the 18-month-old’s rescue as a miracle.

“When you see something” like that, said Trenton Police Lt. Stephen Varn, “how can you not have some sort of faith?”

But Trenton’s close Liberian community remained stunned by the death of 7-year-old Aldrey Anderson, whose body was recovered from a second-floor bedroom.

“We don’t believe what happened,” said Trenton resident Lydia Jackson, 20, Aldrey’s cousin. “I pray for a new beginning. I pray his soul may rest in peace.”

Aldrey’s mother, Evie, who lives in the Vine Street rowhouse, jumped from a second-floor window, breaking her right leg, fire officials said. Her husband lives in Monrovia, Liberia, said a family friend.

Another woman, a 5-year-old girl, and a 7-year-old girl who were in the basement with Augustine got out with the help of neighbors before firefighters arrived, Varn said.

The fire didn’t appear to be arson, he said, but the cause and origin were under investigation. The blaze broke out around 12:15 a.m. and was under control around 3 a.m.

The blaze forced firefighters back several times when they tried to get into the home, said Leonard Carmichael Jr., director of the Trenton Fire Department. Flames and heat also prevented them from initially being able to verify how many people were in the house, he said.

Neighbors gave this account of the rescue:

Augustine; next-door neighbor Mamie Deah, 31; Deah’s 5-year-old daughter, Fredisha; and the 7-year-old girl, who was spending the night, dozed off around 11 p.m. after eating pizza and watching an African movie, Deah said.

Evie Anderson and Aldrey were upstairs, Deah said. Augustine also lives in the house with his mother, who was not at home.

Sometime after midnight, Deah’s brother, Glade Kuwin, 20, who lives with her, noticed the flames and raced over.

Smoke and fire lunged from the kitchen and dining room, he said, so he went down to the basement and used his cell phone light to cut the through the smoke.

He screamed for his sister.

Deah awoke to smoke around her. Nervous, she ran outside alone and then called for her daughter, Fredisha. In the basement, Kuwin heard the girl crying.

Kuwin and a friend got Fredisha and the other girl out. But he couldn’t get back into house. The flames were too strong, he said.

Sometime later, firefighters recovered Aldrey’s body upstairs.

“I feel disappointed. If the fire was not heavy, I could get him out,” Kuwin said.

Firefighters fought the blaze for at least two hours. Around the side of the home, Battalion Chief John Gribbin, who was directing the operations, knelt down and shined his light in a basement window.

He spotted Augustine, and the 18-month-old waved, Gribbin said.

“Get in there. He’s alive,” he told a fire captain.

The captain went through the front door into the basement. Augustine went under the water twice, Gribbin said.

“I asked him to hang on to the heater, which was just behind him,” he said.

Augustine grabbed the heater, Gribbin said, and waved again. His legs were kicking in several feet of water. He kept pushing his legs up to keep above water, which was up to his mouth, Gribbin said.

Augustine jumped into the captain’s arms and wrapped his arms and legs around the man.

“There was a miracle on Vine Street, even though we had a catastrophe,” Carmichael said.