Four children dead in Cleveland house fire

CLEVELAND – A house fire early Tuesday killed four children and injured three other people, including two boys pulled to safety by a passer-by who broke a basement window to free them as they screamed for help.

A woman was injured when she jumped to safety from a second-story window, fire officials said.

All four died from smoke inhalation, said Dr. Elizabeth Balraj, Cuyahoga County coroner.

The girl was found in a second-floor bedroom and the other three were on the first floor, said Brent Collins, assistant fire chief. The fire apparently started in the basement and engulfed the house.

Fire Department spokesman Larry Gray said the investigation of the fire is continued, but arson was not the suspected cause at this time.

He said the victims were tentatively identified as brothers Tylor Brownlee, 8; Corey Brownlee, 3; and Austin Brownlee, 1. The fourth victim was identified as Daina Howell, 14. It was unclear if she was related to the others.

Gray said the brothers were staying with their grandmother, Catherine Brownlee, 48, her 13-year-old son and another 14-year-old grandson. Those three escaped.

“At this time, there is no evidence of working smoke detectors,” Gray said.

Nick Haviaras, 43, owner of the nearby Expressway Diner, said he was driving home from work about 3 a.m. when he saw the flames.

Haviaras said he partially kicked open the front door, but something was blocking it.

“So I shouted inside, ‘Is anybody in here? Can anybody hear me?’ Then I heard voices saying ‘Help us, help us! We’re in the basement!'”

Haviaras used the metal base of a fire extinguisher to bust open a window near the ground, but still couldn’t figure out where the voices were coming from. He went toward the rear of the house and broke out a second window. Two boys rushed over, and Haviaras said he pulled them out.

One boy told him his mother was inside and other children were on the first floor. Haviaras said he then saw the woman on the ground, after she had jumped. He ran back to the front door to try to get the other children.

“I’m yelling but nobody’s answering. I tried to go back in, but I couldn’t see nothing because of the smoke. By then the Fire Department was there and they just took over,” he said.

The boys suffered burns over about 30 percent of their bodies, Collins said.