A 58-year-old Baton Rouge man died Monday night after he rushed back into a burning house to fight a fire started by a child playing with a lighter.
The child and two other children inside the home at 661 Voohries Drive managed to escape before firefighters arrived just before 10 p.m. to find flames shooting from the front window.
Martin Osigwe, who had been watching the children, died after going back inside the home, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William “Beau” Clark said.
Osigwe was pronounced dead at the scene, his death ruled an accident due to carbon monoxide toxicity, Clark said.
Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesman Curt Monte said investigators found buckets in the hallway and the bedroom, and it is believed Osigwe attempted to extinguish the fire by throwing buckets of water on the flames.
Investigators found him dead in the bedroom, Clark said.
The cause of the fire is being attributed to one of the three children who was playing with a lighter on the bed in a front room.
Monte said the child, who is no older than 10 years old and whose name will not be released, won’t be charged, as the law does not recognize intent to harm in children that young.
Children 10 years of age or younger are “under the age of culpability, which means they cannot be charged. They’re not able to be charged for a crime because … they’re too young to know malice,” Monte said.
Osigwe and his wife were from Nigeria and owned the house. They had lived at the address for about a year and a half, neighbors Herman and Cheryl Brandon said. There was a pet goat in the backyard, they said.
Neighbors Bill and Anne Baker said Osigwe was a responsible parent, taking his kids to school each day. They said he walked with a limp and that he and his wife never discussed their life in Nigeria.
Monte said the family’s smoke detector appeared to have been broken. The bedroom was the only part of the house destroyed, Monte said, and the fire was contained to that bedroom and the hallway. The rest of the home received heavy smoke damage. The fire resulted in $80,000 in damage to the home and its contents.
The fire marks the ninth in Baton Rouge since January started by a minor but the first juvenile-caused fire this year involving a fatality, he said.
Monte said the number of juvenile-started fires so far this year is not out of the ordinary. Nonetheless, he said, it is important to recognize during these tragedies that adults must work to teach fire safety in their homes, especially to children too young to learn safety rules at school.
The Osigwe family will be offered counseling and assistance by the Juvenile Fire Setter Program, a program that aims to lower the number of juvenile-caused fires in the city and parish, Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesman Mark Miles said.
The program is primarily for children between 2 and 16 years old who have set fires.
Though the Fire Department cannot mandate the program, Miles said, a judge could demand a family participate.
The program works to identify the child’s motives.
“Some children do it for curiosity,” Miles said. “Some kids do it out of anger. You have to find out, what is their drive? What makes them want to set a fire?”
The child remains in the program until the instructors feel the child has progressed enough, and then they do evaluations after the child finishes classes. Miles said it’s a continual process.
Miles said he recently was teaching a class on fire safety, and one of the students raised her hand. She told him, “I think I need help.” When he asked her why, she said she liked setting fires.
“The kids in the class started laughing,” Miles said. “I told them this is not a laughing matter and asked her to explain.”
The high school student told him sometimes when she gets angry, she likes to set things on fire.
“Each year, fires started by juveniles account for a large percentage of property damage, injuries and deaths that occur in the United States,” Miles said. “And many fires go unreported because the families ignore the seriousness of this activity.”
“Accidents do happen,” Monte said. “Because of the accident, we are all grieving, but we do need to reflect as a community and talk to our children, our neighbors. Let’s be vocal about fire education, and let’s practice escape plans.”
Monte recounted a fire earlier this year set by a minor in an apartment complex.
“A mother and a grandmother were with nine children living in an apartment complex,” Monte said. “One of the children was playing with matches, and it started a fire. The apartment was destroyed.”
Though Monte and Miles could not pinpoint any particular trend among the minor-started fires, all nine fires started after a child picked up a lighter or match.
Monte said the Fire Department tries to start teaching children fire safety early on in day care, when firetrucks and fire hats catch their attention and help them soak up knowledge of the rules of dealing with fire.
“Under school-age children are very curious in the same way with matches and lighters,” Monte said. “We don’t leave our medicine around.”
Miles said adults also need to be careful how they handle fire around children because children are impressionable.
“It’s hard to see a child’s face when they don’t realize what they just did,” Miles said.
Follow Danielle Maddox on Twitter, @Dani_Maddox4.