Seeking answers in tragic fatal fire

Fire officials are investigating the cause of Thursday’s fatal fire at a row home in Feltonville, which claimed the lives of a mother and three children, and marked the city’s fourth large-scale fire this week.

The four deaths were the first fire fatalities this year after 33 in 2010, officials said. Investigators say the home at 4814 Palethorp St. had one smoke alarm in the basement, but it did not have any batteries.

The initial 911 call came at 1:28 a.m. Thursday and the first crew arrived on the scene at 1:32 a.m. and found heavy fire on the first floor, officials said. By the time the fire was under control at 2:07 a.m., the family of four was dead.

Neighbors identified the victims as Rasheedah Butts-Wilson, 33; her son, Jamar, 14; daughters, Minyan, 12, and Shanai, 8. Butts-Wilson was the block captain and worked at a day care center, according to neighbors.

“We were all very saddened. My son was very emotional because that was his best friend,” said Jackie Toledo, whose 14-year-old son played with Jamar. “They were very well liked on the block and she was always willing to help other neighbors.”

According to reports, some neighbors claimed that fire fighters were slow to enter the building, but Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers denied that in reports, saying initially there was a communication error and when a firefighter went in to find any possible survivors he had to be pulled out.

Toledo, who lives across the street from the scene, also defended the rescue effort. “They tried their hardest to get in there,” she said. “But it was hard because they didn’t have access to the second floor.”

Four adjacent properties were also damaged.