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Waukegan kindergartner dies from smoke inhalation

MariMartinez hugs her sChristian Guzman 11 with family friend Nely Borahonfront Martinez home 1534 JenkinsCourt Waukegan. The rental property was

Maria Martinez hugs her son Christian Guzman, 11, with family friend Nely Borahona in front of the Martinez home at 1534 Jenkinson Court in Waukegan. The rental property was the site of a basement fire that killed her 5 year-old daughter Daniela Martinez. | Thomas Delany Jr~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 11, 2012 6:09AM

WAUKEGAN — At least one family member tried to find 5-year-old Daniela Martinez after smoke from a basement fire filled her home on the 1500 block of Jenkinson Court on Friday.

Two Waukegan firefighters found her hiding in a downstairs bathroom and began performing CPR within minutes of arriving on the scene.

But these efforts were in vain, as the Whittier Elementary School kindergartner was pronounced dead after being transported to Vista Medical Center East.

Emerging from the one-story structure following an inspection with local and state fire marshals Friday afternoon, Fire Chief Dan Young said preliminary indications point to a fire started in a pile of laundry by someone using a lighter or matches.

“Somebody might have been playing with matches, but we don’t know that it was matches. It was some type of hand-held, flame-producing device,” said Young, holding his hand at about knee level and adding that the fire started “in a basket of clothes about this high.”

Fire crews were dispatched to the residence east of Lewis Avenue after 11 a.m., said Young, and found that at least four other occupants had been able to escape without injury. Young added that he was told the girl’s father attempted to find her but was driven out by heat and smoke.

There was also an indication that the girl had trouble communicating verbally and might not have been able to call for help.

“She was hiding in a bathroom when we found her,” Young said. “This was a fire that produced copious amounts of smoke — there was so much smoke that the fire almost smothered itself.”

Lake County Coroner Artis Yancy reported Martinez’s death was caused by smoke inhalation. Officials also reported the child suffered burns around her feet, indicating that she might have tried to escape at some point.

According to Young, an investigation of the residence revealed that there was one smoke detector in the basement that did not contain batteries, while no smoke detectors were located on the main floor.

He added that the single-family residence was a rental unit that appeared to have “multiple sleeping areas in the basement, as well on the first floor, with locked doors.”

Daniela’s mother, Maria Martinez, stood silently on the front sidewalk and spoke with investigators.

She was comforted by her 11-year-old son, Christian, and family friend, Nely Borahona, who said Daniela had lived in the house about three months and loved watching “Dora the Explorer.”

Friday’s tragedy was the first fire fatality in Waukegan since May 2010, when a man set fire to his home on the 400 block of Julian Street in an apparent suicide.

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