Despite frantic effort, boy can’t be saved in Westport fire
WESTPORT — The modest two-story home on Mount Pleasant Street has been twice marked by tragedy — once in November 1952, when a fire killed a woman and eight of her children, and again Saturday night, when a 4-year-old boy trapped in his bedroom died in a blaze.
In April, a single mother moved in with her two daughters and the 4-year-old, a smiling boy who quickly won the hearts of neighbors.
Neighbors identified the mother as Melody, a dental hygienist in her 30s, and said her son was named Caleb. Officials did not confirm the names.
When the house caught fire Saturday around 11 p.m., one of those neighbors, a teenager who lives across the street, rushed in through thick smoke and flames in an effort to save the boy, the teen's father said, but to no avail.
"He told me how hard he tried, and he just couldn't find the kid," said Jack Silva, 53, who fought back tears as he described how his 17-year-old son, Jacob, ran into the engulfed house.
The dense smoke was too much for the teen, who ultimately had to leap from a second-floor window, his father said.
Jacob Silva told WCVB-TV earlier Sunday that he could not see inside the house because of the smoke.
"The kid was a good kid," he told the station. "I tried my best. There's nothing I could do."
The Westport Fire Department said in a statement that firefighters later found the boy's body in his bedroom on the second floor of the house at 9 Mount Pleasant St.
The child's mother and her younger daughter were treated for burns and smoke inhalation, fire officials said. The woman's oldest daughter, who is about 15, was not home at the time, neighbors said.
Westport Deputy Fire Chief Allen Manley said officials have not determined what started the fire, but they believe it began in the kitchen area. The property is a total loss, he said.
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said in a statement that investigators are reviewing the scene and conducting interviews in an effort to determine the cause of the blaze. He said the investigation will also look at whether the house had working smoke alarms.
Throughout the day, mourners came by the gutted, charred remains of the house, leaving a teddy bear, a wreath, and a candle.
Westport fire officials could not confirm Jack Silva's account of his son's heroic rescue attempt but said in their statement that a male who tried to save the boy was also treated at an area hospital.
Silva said he is elated that his son escaped with only minor injuries to his hand but he lamented the loss of the little boy.
"He was a bubbly, bubbly kid, and I'm going to miss him," Silva said.
Another neighbor, who identified himself only as Neil, said his girlfriend's son told him the mother was screaming hysterically on the street after she escaped the burning home.
She kept repeating, "My son's in there," Neil said.
The conditions of the mother and her injured daughter were not available Sunday, and attempts to reach their family were unsuccessful.
Another neighbor, Kerrie Mello, 49, said the child loved his bicycle and his dog, a pitbull named Angel who also died in the fire.
"There was too much smoke" in the burning home, Mello said, as she recalled Jacob Silva shouting the boy's name as he tried to find him.
Westport fire officials confirmed that the same address was the scene of a fire in November 1952 that killed Mary T. Audette and eight of her children. The children ranged in ages from 4 to 17, according to an account published at the time from the New Bedford Standard Times.
On Sunday, Audette's grandson, Miguel Massa, 65, of Somerset, said his 84-year-old mother "still gets shook up" about that deadly blaze.
"When she went to the funeral, there was her whole family in front of her," said Massa, who visited Mount Pleasant Street on Sunday.
Jack Silva said the house has "bad karma" and should be torn down.
"Put a memory stone on it, please," he said.