A Harvey house fire that left a 4-year-old boy dead and a 2-year-old boy critically injured Friday began in the room where the little boys slept, state and local officials said Saturday.
The fire at 1331 Pailet Ave. is still under investigation, but State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said there’s no reason to suspect foul play.
“We’re doing the normal forensics and autopsy, but the preliminary information still indicates that it’s accidental,” Browning said by telephone. “There’s no indication of someone setting a fire or anything.”
Browning said a number of devices in the boys’ room could have contributed to an electric fire, including television, video games, a computer and extension cords.
Both Browning’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are investigating the incident because of the death involved, according to Assistant Fire Chief Terry Thibodeaux, of the Harvey Volunteer Fire Department.
First responders were notified of the fire about 3:15 p.m. after Darrineka Brackens ran outside screaming that her house was burning and her two children were caught inside, according to neighbors and Col. John Fortunato, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Her 4-year-old son, Jonathan Brackens, died as a result of the fire, despite what neighbors described as a “heroic” attempt by one neighbor to rescue him and his brother.
While firefighters were en route, 60-year-old Desmond Bryan saw the house burning and heard the mother’s cries. After trying without success to get in the house through the back and side doors, he kicked in the front door and crawled inside, searching through the house until he found the two boys, witnesses said.
Thibodeaux said Bryan’s hand was burned as he sought to rescue the boys.
“I think it was heroic,” he said of Bryan’s actions.
“Most people are afraid to go into fires, you know,” he said. “There is the factor of the unknown. You don’t know where the kids are, you don’t know how long you’re going to have to hold your breath. When the fire department goes in, we have masks and equipment and things, so we can spend more time looking without as many issues.”
When the fire broke out, Scheed Halid, 38, was drinking with friends at Benny’s Lounge, directly across the street from Brackens’ house. He described a chaotic scene with frenzied neighbors and first responders doing all they could to save both boys’ lives.
“We were there, just trying to help as much as we can,” Halid said, adding that he helped carry the boys from the burning home to the grass, where about a dozen people were standing. While they were waiting for emergency responders, some neighbors started performing CPR, he said.
“I carried their bodies, but I felt like there was nothing I could do for those kids,” he added. “It’s just a tragedy to see something like that. It’s heartbreaking.”
Both boys were taken to West Jefferson Medical Center, where Jonathan died. Johiah Brackens, 2, was later transferred to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, where Fortunato said he was in critical condition.
Ivy Walker, the 78-year-old owner of Benny’s, said Brackens and her sons had just moved into the neighborhood recently.
“She had her children wherever she went. She never neglected them,” Walker said of the mother. “She loves them children.”
Walker remembered Jonathan, the 4-year-old who died, as a “playful little boy” who was also “very smart, bookwise.”
Brackens’ family told her that the other son was on life support and had been badly burned, Walker said.
“It’s so sad,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what she is going through.”