A 23-year-old East Side mother died Friday afternoon from burns suffered when she apparently tried to save her critically injured three-year-old son from a raging early-morning fire in their Timon Street home, fire officials said.
The mother had escaped with her fiance and their two-year-old son but is believed to have gone back inside the burning home when she realized their older child was not outside. He was listed in extremely critical condition late Friday, suffering from smoke inhalation.
Firefighters pulled the mother, identified by sources as Lequeisha Watkins, and son, Malachi Norman, from a rear bedroom in their first-floor apartment at 174 Timon St. not long after responding to the 12:25 a.m. alarm.
"Our personnel were able to push inside to the rear of the building, and we found the 23-year-old mother and her three-year-old son. They were down and we brought them out," Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. "We can never control the results, life and death. We can only do the best we can and that's what our guys did."
Rescue One Firefighter Kevin Scott was credited with removing the woman and Ladder 14 Firefighter Dave Smith, on temporary assignment with Engine 21, removed the three-year-old.
The boy is at Women & Children's Hospital, and his mother died at Erie County Medical Center, where she had been on life support. Watkins' fiance, Barry Norman Jr., and the younger boy, whose name was not immediately available, escaped without injury.
"The couple were engaged to be married and were talking about eloping," Whitfield said. "They were very much in love and had known each other since they were nine years old and had been together for years."
From the front porch of his home across the street from the fire scene, Dre-yvon Martinez stared over the charred pile of rubble that only hours earlier was the home of his friends and their children.
"She'd do anything for her children," said a downcast Martinez, who had known the victim for about three years since moving to the neighborhood. The victim had previously lived down the street before moving into the lower apartment across the street from his home just a couple of months ago.
Martinez said he left his home briefly about midnight "and everything was fine."
"Fifteen minutes later, I came back and the whole front was on fire," he said, adding that it wasn't surprising that the victim ran back into the burning home after realizing her son was still inside.
"That's what a mother's intuition would do," Martinez said, noting the victim was dedicated to her children. "She'd do anything for them," he said.
A memorial consisting of stuffed teddy bears, roses, other flowers and a small red heart balloon that said "I Love You" was tied to a tree outside the burned debris of the house.
The deadly fire, which destroyed a total of three homes, was one of three two-alarm blazes that firefighters battled throughout Friday.
Shortly after 3 a.m., firefighters were called to a West Side boarding house, attached to the old Royal Pheasant restaurant on the 400 block of Forest Avenue, where a fire left 27 residents homeless.
Many of them were camped out in a temporary shelter Friday in the basement of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Buffalo as Red Cross workers made arrangements to place them in temporary housing, according to Red Cross spokesman Jay Bonafede.
All of the residents made it out safely, but the structure, which for decades has been a boarding house, was destroyed and is expected to be demolished, authorities said. Mixology Buffalo Tavern was operating out of the front of the building.
"Most of the residents were left with nothing, not even jackets or shoes, and we have set up drop-off points for clothing and toiletry items," said Nancy Singh, the owner of the building.
Donations can be taken to Harbor House, a homeless drop-in shelter at 130 Genesee St., from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. seven days a week or to Empowerment Academy, 327 Elm St., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.