Grim anniversary: 2 fatal fires 7 years apart in Hamilton

Editor's Note: This story first published on Dec. 12, 2016, and is being republished to mark the anniversary of these two fires.

Today marks the somber anniversaries of two fatal fires that happened seven years apart in Hamilton.

Just after 6 a.m. on Dec. 12, 2007, a fire broke out at 120 Hueston St. that claimed the life of DeMarcus Thomas, 12. The boy is credited for helping save the life of his then-11 year-old sister when their home caught fire.

A neighbor said the boy convinced his sister Deona to climb out a second-story bedroom window as smoke and flames were seen pouring out of the house that day. Shunquela Thomas, DeMarcus’s mother, and two younger siblings were not at home when the fire started.

She said the police and fire reports list the cause of the fire as inconclusive. Information on the fire investigation was not readily available Monday from the Hamilton Fire Department.

She said when firefighters found his body, DeMarcus had a sheet wrapped around his face in an attempt to not breathe in the smoke around him. Thomas said the firefighters also noted the sheets and towels under the door to her bedroom to keep the smoke out. She said her children had practiced how to get out of the house quickly in case of fire.

Thomas, who lives in the Lindenwald neighborhood of Hamilton, said her daughter, who escaped the burning house, is doing well and is expecting her second child in May. Thomas said if it’s boy, he will be named DeMarcus.

She said this time of year that she thinks more about her son than the fire that claimed his life, adding that “it weighs a lot on her mind.”

“I think a lot about my son, what he could have been and he would have become as an example for his brothers,” she said. “I still think about the impact he would have had on his brothers.”

She said one of DeMarcus’ friends continues to have a hard time with his death.

Thomas went back to college at Miami University-Hamilton to become a teacher after she graduated in 2014. She is currently teaching English and math and is a peer professional working with struggling students.

DeMarcus was a sixth-grader at Adams Elementary and was a linebacker on the Little Blue football team. She said she continues to stay in touch with her son’s friends and had attended games and other activities to support them over the years.

She said people rush about during the holiday season and said parents should take an extra 10 minutes before they go out to make sure things are off or unplugged to prevent a tragedy.

Seven years later, on Dec. 12, 2014, an early morning fire tore through a two-story house in the 100 block of Franklin Street that claimed the lives of Alex Flores-Ortiz, 7, and his sisters, Siclalia Flores-Ortiz, 10, and Yesenia Flores-Ortiz, 12.

The children’s father, Ismael “Michael” Flores-Ortiz, suffered burns trying to save his children. The mother, Crystal Flores-Ortiz, and their 2-year-old son, Anthony, as well as their 9-year-old son, Ismael, escaped the blaze with minor injuries.

Butler County Coroner Lisa Mannix determined the children all died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide toxicity. But the deaths, whether accidental or otherwise, remain undetermined, awaiting a ruling by investigators from Hamilton Fire Department and the state fire marshal’s office.

According to the coroner’s report, the mother was in the kitchen on Dec. 12, 2014, when she heard a popping noise, went into the living room and saw fire.

“She yelled for her husband, who ran upstairs where he awoke the (children). He returned downstairs but the children did not,” according to the coroner’s report.

Yesenia Flores-Ortiz was found dead in an upstairs bathroom, clothed and seated in a tub with the water running. Alexander Flores-Ortiz was found in an upstairs bedroom on a bed near a north wall and Siclalia Flores-Ortiz was found in an upstairs bedroom in a bed next to an open window on the east wall, according to the coroner’s report.

The downstairs of the house had heavy smoke damage with a noted hole in the floor, and the upstairs had heavy heat and smoke damage, according to the coroner’s report.

Just days after the fire, state investigators said the fire started in the living room where a Christmas tree was located. The Christmas tree as well as heaters and outlets were also being looked at as the possible source.

Hamilton Fire Investigator Trevor Snider said the fatal fire remains an open investigation and said there was no information on an official determination on how the fire started.

This story contains previous reporting by Lauren Pack.

Holiday fire prevention tips

Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli shared the following safety tips to prevent fires during the holiday season.

* If purchasing live trees, check for freshness and the needles should be soft and not falling off. Live trees also need lots of water every day to stay fresh.

* Cut live trees one inch from the bottom so they can get water each day.

* Look for fire resistant labels on artificial trees. Lolli said these trees can catch fire in seconds if they are not fire resistant. He said most holiday fires occur on or after New Years Day.

* Don’t block exit ways with trees.

* Check for damaged sockets or wires when putting lights on trees.

* Make sure the lights have an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) tag.

* Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the number of lights.

* Change the bulbs on tree lights with the same wattage.

* Turn off the tree lights before going to bed or leaving home.

* Don’t overload extension cords.

* Use non-combustible or flame resistant materials on decorations when trimming the tree.

* Don’t use lighted candles around evergreens or other decorations.

* Keep an eye on children and pets to make sure they don’t knock over the tree.

* Fireplaces and heaters are not good places for decorations.

* Check and/or put fresh batteries in smoke detectors throughout the home. One detector should be on each floor and one in each bedroom.

* Teach children two escape routes out of the home in case of fire and have a meeting place in front of the home.

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