WASHINGTON — Dozens of firefighters were canvassing a Northwest, D.C. neighborhood Wednesday morning after tragedy struck Quebec Place. A 7-year-old girl died after being pulled from a burning home on the street Tuesday afternoon. Officials say numerous other children were rescued from the house at the time of the fire.
The blaze broke out on the 700 block of Quebec Place on Tuesday afternoon, according to DC Fire and EMS. Chief John Donnelly said Karen Thomas died after being transported to a nearby hospital for her injuries. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
According to Donnelly, Karen was in the house with adult family members and several other children when the smoke detectors went off. Donnelly said when firefighters arrived the adults were evacuating the children with the help of neighbors.
"For fire prevention activities, it's really important to remember that some detectors aren't the save-all," Donnelly said. "You've got to talk about your exit plan, you've got to talk about rendezvous points, and look for ways to prevent the fire in the first place."
DC Fire & EMS crews returned to Quebec Place Wednesday to check smoke detector functionality in the neighborhood, and offer fire safety talks for any interested residents.
WUSA9's Megan Rivers spoke to Paul Simms Sr. at the scene, who identified himself as Karen's uncle. Simms said she is survived by her mother, father and 10 siblings, including a twin sister, Kristina.
“Me and my twin always stick together,” 7-year-old Kristina Thomas said.
Kristina had a special bond with her sister. The twins could always be found lighting up any room they entered, family members said.
“She is my best friend," Kristina added.
The twins' older sister, Dior, is credited for saving their younger siblings. When she saw the fire, she called her parents right away.
“I knew that they could come and help us,” Dior Thomas said.
But she was terrified knowing her brothers and sisters, ranging in ages from nine to eight months, were all downstairs.
“It was scary because all my siblings were little," Dior said. "I was nervous because all of our stuff was going to be gone."
Simms said they’re still processing the loss of little Karen.
“It certainly is a very tough loss for me and my family to lose someone so young and abruptly like that,”
According to Simms, mustard seed faith is what’s keeping them going.
“We are a family of faith, and we do believe that Karen is in a better place," he said. "We believe to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. She was the most precious little girl."
Donnelly could not give exact numbers on how many people were evacuated from the home.
"I just heard screaming outside, and then me and my roommate ran outside and saw them coming out of the house," neighbor Will Letchinger said.
The fire caused significant damage to the 2nd floor of the three-story home, according to Donnelly, but it did not extend to nearby homes. Chief Donnelly said some light smoke caused residents in surrounding buildings to evacuate, but he believed they would be able to return later in the day.
Following the fire, the community stepped in to help. Some neighbors cleared debris outside the house, while others joined a donation drive for the family.
"We’ve already all gotten together on an email chain so we can figure out how to provide for our neighbors on the block," Letchinger said. "We’re hoping that we can at least provide some things in the next few hours and next few days.”
The Red Cross has also stepped in to help the family. A GoFundMe has been created to help the family with relocation and rebuilding costs.
According to Donnelly, this is the 11th fire death of the year in the District, and the second involving a child.
"We wake up every day thinking how to keep our kids safe from the predictable things," Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau said. "So something like this, so tragic, this family is going to be recovering forever, if they do.”