- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

An early morning fire in an apartment killed two young brothers and displaced six residents in Southeast yesterday.

Paramedics who responded to the burning apartment just before 2:30 a.m. could not revive Day’Ton’E Barnes, 6, and Damone Barnes, 3. Their bodies were pulled by firefighters from a double bed in a bedroom in the third-floor unit in the Randle Hill Apartments in the 3300 block of Sixth Street Southeast.

The boys’ 27-year-old mother, Janice Barnes, her male friend and a 61-year-old female neighbor were credited with saving the boys’ sister, who, family friends said, celebrated her first birthday Nov. 8.

The mother and the neighbor were treated for non-life-threatening smoke inhalation at George Washington University Hospital.

“There was a great volume of fire in the third-floor apartment,” said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. fire department.

Four firefighters rushed into the burning apartment in the three-story garden-style apartment building to try to save the boys.

Firefighter Paul Patterson carried one boy down an interior stairway, while firefighter Lenny Zelonis carried the other boy out through a broken window and down a ladder. Lt. Dennis Gobantes and firefighter Darrell Nieman helped in the rescue attempts.

“It was a gallant effort,” Mr. Etter said. “Unfortunately, it was too late.”

Medics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the boys. But they were pronounced dead at the hospital.

Mr. Etter said the boys were severely burned and suffered smoke inhalation.

The blaze broke out in the Barnes’ living room, and the size of the fire indicated that it had been burning for a while by the time firefighters arrived, Mr. Etter said.

The investigation for the cause of the blaze was continuing last night. Someone set off the fire alarm in the building hallway after the fire was discovered.

The fire and the water used to extinguish it caused about $150,000 in damage to the apartment and the one below it, Mr. Etter said.

The fire displaced six residents, he said.

Friends and a neighbor yesterday described Miss Barnes as a caring mother who had lived in the apartment for more than seven years.

“I can’t say anything bad about her,” said Donald Pearson, 42, a family friend who lived in the apartment with the Barnes family for several months last year. “They’re the best kids I know.”

Neighbor Veronica Fleming, 51, said she often defended Day’Ton’E when he was outdoors with other youngsters.

“All the kids would pick on him,” said Mrs. Fleming, who with her daughter tried to help their neighbors during the fire. “Everyone around here was asleep. [Miss Barnes] was terrified.”

Neighbor Jeremiah Williams said he and his wife took the baby girl from Miss Barnes who then tried to get back into the apartment to get the boys, but the flames were “too much.”

Miss Barnes’ male friend, who was identified by family friends only as “Kevin,” was outside in the near-freezing temperatures without a shirt or shoes.

“He said, ‘My baby’s gone. My baby’s gone,’” Mrs. Fleming said.

Later, firefighters went to neighboring apartments to make sure their smoke alarms were working.

Mr. Etter said smoke alarms were provided to replace those units that didn’t work.

Yesterday’s fire was the first one with multiple fatalities in more than a year. On Dec. 20, 2004, two children and two adults were killed in a row house fire in the 400 block of 17th Street Southeast.

Mr. Etter said 14 persons died in fires in 2005, compared with 15 in 2004. Twelve persons died in fires in 2003.

Mr. Etter said that, in general, there are more house fires during the holiday season because decorations such as Christmas trees, lights, ornaments and candles can be fire hazards if they are not properly monitored.

He also said that people use more electrical appliances, such as space heaters, during the winter.

• Matthew Cella contributed to this story.

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