SPRINGFIELD — The man had made it out of the burning building Sunday morning, when he realized his two small children — a son and daughter, both younger than 5 years old — were still inside.
So he turned around and ran in through the wind-whipped flames to find them, according to a family friend, Omar Abdi, who said he had spoken to the man's wife. But the father could not get his children out of the burning building.
The man and the children died in the two-alarm blaze that tore through their apartment building on Belmont Avenue in Springfield, as other terrified residents leaped from windows to escape the searing heat. His wife and a third child survived. Officials have not identified the family.
“I feel bad,” said Omar Hussein, who said he was the man’s nephew and stood in shock Sunday afternoon across the street from the building where his family members had perished. “I feel bad.”
The fire broke out on the second floor of the four-story building on 49 Belmont Ave. at about 7:25 a.m., and flames swept upward with the wind after the second-floor windows “failed,” Springfield’s fire commissioner, Bernard Calvi, told reporters at the scene.
The building had no sprinklers, he said. It did have smoke detectors in the hallways, he said, but officials were not sure if there were working detectors inside the units.
A man, a pregnant woman, and a child were injured when they jumped from a second-story window before firefighters arrived, said Dennis Leger, a spokesman for the Springfield Fire Department.
They were taken to the hospital, along with a woman who was across the street and needed help, and another woman who went to the South End Community Center with burns on her arms.
The woman who jumped from the burning building is four months into her pregnancy, Calvi said.
The conditions of all five were not immediately available Sunday but they were expected to survive, he said.
The wife of the man who died in the fire is hospitalized, said Abdi.
“She’s not feeling good,” he said, “but she’s alive.’’
Hussein said his uncle was a truck driver who had immigrated to the United States from Somalia in 2005. He had come home from work early Sunday morning, at about 3 a.m., just a few hours before the fire broke out.
Jermaine Watt, who lives down the street from the apartment building, saw the beginning of the blaze and began to film as residents started jumping.
“First it was smoke, and then it was just like . . . fire,” he said.
“You could tell that it was starting to spread because it started to come out of the other side of the building,’’ he said. “You could tell it was catching.”
The video Watt took shows smoke billowing from a second-story window. At one point in the video, a figure is seen leaping from the third floor onto the lawn outside. Screams can be heard in the background.
“Everybody was panicking,” said Ashley Fournier, another neighbor, who said she saw two people jump from the building.
“Within minutes of [being] out here, the flames were up to the top,” she said.
The inferno displaced between 60 and 80 people living in the 20-unit building. The American Red Cross of Massachusetts was providing assistance.
The Springfield arson and bomb unit is investigating the blaze, along with State Police from the fire marshal’s office.
Springfield’s mayor, Domenic Sarno, told reporters at the scene that the displaced families were temporarily placed in buses while officials determined if any part of the building can be occupied. If the displaced people can’t be accommodated in hotels or motels, Sarno said, the city will provide some type of shelter.
“Right now we are trying to console the families and the residents who have been displaced,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families that have been affected by this tragedy.”
The Springfield fire and police departments and State Police assigned to the state fire marshal and district attorney’s office will conduct a joint investigation, according to State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey.
Sarno said many of the families who lived in the building were Somalian.
“Many a times when there are cultural differences, sometimes, people might not adhere to the smoke detectors’ alarms going off,” he said. “It’s a tragic situation.”Alejandro Serrano can be reached at email@example.com. J.D. Capelouto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jdcapelouto. Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.