An Akron woman and her three children — ages 4, 6 and 10 — were found dead Wednesday inside a Kenmore home that caught fire amid the coldest temperatures to hit the area in 25 years.
The woman's fiance jumped out of a window to escape the blaze, which largely destroyed the 18th Street Southwest home that was built in 1924, Akron Fire Lt. Sierjie Lash said.
The children — the youngest two boys, the eldest a girl — might have been in class Wednesday when the fire started if brutally cold weather hadn't prompted Akron Public Schools and most others to close for two days.
Officials are withholding the names of all of those involved until they can notify their families, Lash said, and investigators continue to search for the cause of the fire.
A woman from Tampa, Fla., called the Beacon Journal on Wednesday afternoon and identified herself as the aunt of the woman who died. She identified her niece as Lydia Aponte, 31. The children's names, in descending order of age, are Maykayla Rose Montero and Isaiah and Aiden Ortiz,said Yesenia Castro.
Castro said her niece and the children followed her fiance, Jesus Castaneda, to Akron about three years ago, hoping the children would have a better life in Akron than in south Florida. Aponte was a stay-at-home-mom and Castaneda worked as a tow truck driver, Castro said.
"She loved her kids so much and they loved her," said Castro, who said the family kept in close contact by phone.
Isaiah, she said, just made the honor roll at school.
"I called the kids my little banana-heads," Castro said through tears.
The deadly blaze at the family's home erupted about 9 a.m. Wednesday as below-zero temperatures plunged Akron into the worst deep freeze to hit Northeast Ohio since 1994.
Jill Morgan, an executive assistant in public relations at Akron Children’s Hospital, had just finished telling her husband how many calls the department was fielding from reporters about the dangers of space heaters when they spotted the black smoke rising above the trees near the Kenmore leg of Interstate 277
When they hit Interstate 77-76, Morgan said she turned her head toward the smoke
“I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, David, a house is already engulfed,’ ” she said.
Her husband, David Lee Morgan Jr., dropped her off at work on Locust Street and headed back toward the fire. Morgan, who teaches at Massillon Washington High School, worked for 15 years as a reporter at the Akron Beacon Journal.
He watched as first responders scrambled to get the fire under control. The video he shot at the scene — which shows the house ablaze and the man who escaped the fire swaddled in blankets — was shared by the Beacon Journal and other media throughout Northeast Ohio.
Jill Morgan had hoped the house was abandoned. But David Morgan doubted it, since it’s so close to Kenmore-Garfield high school.
“It was a rough afternoon after we learned people, children died,” Jill Morgan said.
No calls for help came from anyone inside the home that burned Wednesday, said Lash, the Akron fire lieutenant.
"We don't even know where the phones are," she said.
Neighbors along this residential street called 911, she said.
Flames had already chewed through the home's roof when firefighters arrived. At times, there was so much smoke that it was difficult to see the 18th Street Southwest home near Battles Avenue because it was hidden behind a rolling black cloud.
The man who escaped the fire told investigators he repeatedly tried to enter the home to rescue those inside, but was forced back by heat and flames. Firefighters also tried repeatedly to get inside, but the roaring heat drove them back, Lash said.
Paramedics at the scene treated the man who escaped the fire, but he refused to be taken to a hospital, Lash said.
The fire was out by about 11:30 a.m. and, though the structure was unstable, firefighters were able to locate the woman and children in different parts of the house.
Some of them appeared to sleep through the blaze, Lash said.
It was not yet clear whether the home had working smoke detectors or if the brutally cold temperatures played any role in the fire.
Firefighters often see an increase in house fires as temperatures plunge because people use space heaters and other potentially fire-causing devices to stay warm.
Police blocked the media and others from getting near the two-story home Wednesday morning. Icicles hung from utility wires and sheets of ice — water frozen from firefighters' hoses — covered the ground.
Firefighters took turns warming up inside an RTA Metro bus, which was brought to the scene to provide them a respite from the cold.
Summit County property records show the home is owned by a company with a mailing address in Hawaii.
From a distance Wednesday, it appeared that the fire destroyed the front of the home two-story home.
Wednesday's fire comes less than two years after Akron's deadliest.
In May 2017, Dennis Huggins, 35, and Angela Boggs, 38, died, along with their five children: Cameron Huggins, 1; Alivia Huggins, 3; Kyle Huggins, 5; Daisia Huggins, 6; and Jared Boggs, 14 in their Fultz Street home in the Sherbondy Hill neighborhood.
Authorities determined that fire was arson and charged a neighbor, Stanley Ford. Ford is also charged with an arson fire in 2016 that killed two others — Lindell Lewis, 65, and Gloria Jean Hart, 66 — who were also in a home on Fultz Street.
Four members of another Akron family also died in a 2016 house fire in Akron's North Hill: Shirley Wallis, her partner, Omar Riley, and their two children, Aniyla Riley, 9, and Shanice Riley, 8.
A family friend and another child, Shaniya Simpson, 12, survived. Authorities determined that fire happened after someone forgot about something cooking on a stove.
On Wednesday, Lash said the deadly Kenmore fire was a sad day for the family.
“It’s also a sad day for Akron,” she said.
Staff writer Brandon Bounds contributed to this report. Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725, firstname.lastname@example.org or @agarrettabj.