MT. VERNON, Ill. (WSIL) – Neighbors at South 24th and Westcott streets thought they were waking up to a foggy Sunday morning.
Then they saw flashing red lights from fire trucks. They knew a house fire was in progress, but they did not know there were casualties inside.
Ashley Cheatham, 18, and her 14-month-old son, Brendon Pauling, died in the house fire, according to County Coroner Roger Hayse.
Firefighters arrived shortly before 6 a.m. Sunday to a house completely engulfed in flames. Tamara Prather, who lives across the courtyard, felt the warmth of her bedroom when she woke up.
“My whole room was glowing and it scared me so I yelled at my husband ‘fire,'” Prather said. “It was the neighbor behind us and the house was completely swallowed up.”
A third victim, Cody Pauling, suffered severe burns to his hands, chest and feet according to Fire Chief Kevin Sargent. Firefighters believe Pauling attempted to return to the house to save Cheatham and the baby.
Pauling was taken to a burn unit in Springfield for treatment. Sargent says the flames also spread to a nearby home, but police were able to notify residents inside. A woman from the house was treated at a local hospital.
Prather says his power went out for about an hour after some power lines were melted by fire. Prather adds that it’s tragic that the mother couldn’t live a full life and her son couldn’t start his own.
“I have grandchildren. I had a grandchild with me that night,” Prather said. “It’s scary. You never know what’s going to happen.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office. Sargent says it’s a painful reminder to always check your smoke alarms, change your batteries and have a fire escape plan.
Hayse says an autopsy was performed on the victims Monday afternoon at Marion. Results of an official cause of death are still pending.