Irmo Fire Officials believe the cause of a Wednesday morning apartment fire off St. Andrews Road that killed a brother and sister was due to an electrical failure, which ignited a nearby Christmas tree.
Jarmaion Martin, 5, and his sister Reghin Stevens, 1, were pronounced dead at the scene from injuries sustained in the fire, according to Lexington County Coroner Harry Harman.
Investigators said it's likely fire sprinklers would have put the fire out and saved the children's lives. However, sprinkler systems were not required when the complex was built.
The two children and their father were asleep in the upstairs bedrooms when the fire started. The children’s father attemped to locate them, but the extent of the smoke and fire was so intense, he was forced to leave the building through the second-story window.
After hitting the ground, the father tried to run back inside. Neighbors restrained him from doing so, Irmo Fire Chief Michael Sonefeld said.
Firefighters were notified of the fire just before 10 a.m. Wednesday. Firefighters from Columbia and Lexington County were called to assist.
According to Irmo Fire Marshal Jeff Allen, fire was leaping from the front of the apartment building and heavy smoke was pouring out of the top when he arrived first on the scene.
It took firefighters six minutes to get to the apartments, and they put water on the blaze almost immediately, Sonefeld said.
The father told officials the pair were upstairs.
Firefighters made multiple attempts before they were able to get inside the burning building and get to the children.
“It was very dicey,” Sonefeld said.
He estimated the firefighters were inside within 10 minutes of the fire’s start.
“It seemed like forever,” he said.
They lowered the brother and sister out of a second story window to emergency medical technicians waiting below, Sonefeld said. But it was too late.
The mother was not home when the fire started but later came to the scene, Sonefeld said.
It has been more than five years since Irmo Fire Department had a fatal blaze and an estimated 15 years since multiple people were killed in a fire, Sonefeld said.
By mid-afternoon Wednesday, family, friends of the family and a local pastor had gathered in front of the apartment building and held a prayer circle.
Todd Pulliam, a pastor at WORD Empowerment Zone Ministries on Shop Road, said he had come to the scene to provide “godly support.”
“(The friends and family) need to stay strong and together like Job’s did for him,” Pulliam said.
On Wednesday evening, firefighters held a debriefing with the department’s chaplain, Sonefeld said. Counseling will be made available to anyone who needs it.
“They did their best,” the chief said.