- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2001

A Mount Pleasant family is mourning the loss of two young girls after a fire gutted their two-story home yesterday morning.
The fire quickly engulfed the row house, billowed black smoke, shot flames into the air and claimed the lives of Tionna, 7, and Kanisha Blanchard, 8.
D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said there were four adults and six children inside the home at the time. It began in the downstairs of the home, located at 446 Lamont St. NW, around 8:45 a.m. The houses on either side suffered no damage from the fire.
Dottia Blanchard, the dead children's aunt, was sleeping in the front living room when she woke up and saw the fire. She said she jumped up and started yelling for everyone to evacuate.
"I wish I would have gone upstairs and done more to alert everyone," Dottia Blanchard said as she rethought the incident throughout the day.
The four other children in the house survived. They are Jayne Watkins, 3, daughter of Keisha Watkins, who was in the basement, Olivia Blanchard, 2, and Ebony Blanchard, 5, daughters of Nadia Blanchard — the mother of the two children who died— and Melody Blanchard, 4, the daughter of Dottia Blanchard. The three were dropped by William Miller, the deceased children's stepfather, from the second floor, and were caught by Nadia Blanchard on the ground in back of the building. Jayne Watkins and her mother escaped out a back door.
The surviving children apparently were not injured and were taken to Children's Hospital for precautionary examinations. They were released to Child Protective Services who in turn brought them to the family at a local hotel.
The children's stepfather suffered second degree burns on his back and a broken leg and is in critical condition. The mother sustained scratches, cuts and minor burns on her stomach. She had to be given a tranquilizer to calm her. An unidentified neighbor suffered heart palpitations. All were taken to the MedStar Unit of Washington Hospital Center.
The fire was brought under control by 35 firefighters shortly before 11 a.m. Fire investigators had to wait more than an hour for the building to cool down to begin searching for the cause. Fire officials said there were no smoke detectors in the home. The cause is under investigation by the fire department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms personnel. ATF routinely investigates every fire in the District.
Family members said the fire spread so quickly that Tionna and Kanisha were confused and didn't know what to do. Neighbors and friends could only look on in terror as Tionna banged on the front, second-floor window for help. They said she finally stopped banging and her hands slid down the window out of view.
Tionna, or "Titi" as she was known by her friends, celebrated her seventh birthday on July 6. Most children in the area regarded the two sisters as generous and well-behaved. Heather Covington and her sister Tiffany Richardson, both 13, saw the body bags come out of the building in the afternoon, but did not realize what they meant.
"They were my best friends really," Heather said a few hours after the fire. "I hope they make it. The angels were with Titi. She held on for a really long time."
Heather and Tiffany did not learn of Tionna's and Kanisha's death until last night.
Witnesses said an unidentified man attempting to rescue the children kicked in the door, but fire filled the entire home and smoke was everywhere. A fireman went to open the window, but it was too hot.
Charles Jolley, a neighbor, comforted Tionna's father when he got to the scene.
"He said one of the hardest things will be going to sleep tonight and seeing those kids," Mr. Jolley said.
Gerry Davis, Tionna's father, who lives nearby, said he is angry and sad after yesterday's events.
"It's so sad. I'm hurt and I'm shocked," Mr. Davis said.
"I didn't see my daughter [before she died]. I'll always love her and she knows where her daddy's at. I want my daughter to rest in peace."
Family members said rescue teams did not respond quickly enough. A neighbor called 911 around 8:40 a.m. and fire trucks arrived at 9 a.m., according to fire officials. Nadia Blanchard, the deceased children's mother, said firefighters didn't immediately try to stop the fire.
"Once they got here I was screaming, 'My kids are still in the house.' They just tried to calm me down and put the fire out before they went in," Ms. Blanchard said.
Fire officials said they did all they could. Mr. Etter said firemen battled the fire and tried to go in simultaneously and if firemen didn't go in it was because the fire was too strong. He said the scene on the ground was morose — even the firefighters were disturbed and crying.
"It's especially tough when this happens to children," he said. "It rips your guts out when something like this happens."

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