A space heater near a mattress caused an accidental fire that killed a 4-year-old boy, his mother and a man who was staying with them late Christmas Eve at a Columbus home reported to be vacant, fire officials said Wednesday.
Investigators say the heater apparently ignited the mattress. They believe the man, identified as 33-year-old Demetrius Chappell, awoke and tried to protect the others by lifting the mattress to remove it, but that would have intensified the blaze, Battalion Chief Michael Fowler said.
"We're ruling the fire as accidental," he said. "We believe that Mr. Chappell was actually trying to save them when everybody got caught and couldn't get out."
The woman, who could not walk because of a physical disability, and the boy may have been on the mattress and may have fallen from it when it was lifted, Fowler said. Firefighters identified the pair as 22-year-old Jerrica Francisco and her son, Deshawn.
Fowler said it appeared the boy had grabbed onto Chappell's leg. Fowler did not know what Chappell's relationship was to the mother and child, but The Columbus Dispatch reported that relatives said he was Francisco's boyfriend.
The landlord of the property knew the victims were in the vacant house but did not have a lease agreement with them, Fowler said.
It appeared their belongings were in only one first-floor room, where firefighters found the remnants of the mattress and other scorched items. Fowler said the gas to the house had been turned off and the line was bolted shut, and investigators thought the electricity also may have been off.
Damage from the fire was estimated at $40,000.