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Posted Sunday, December 30, 2007
Dorchester fire victims were 9 and 11 years old

By Matt Viser, Globe Staff

and Michael Naughton and Daniel

Peleschuk, Globe Correspondents

Two children were killed in a two-alarm fire in Dorchester early this morning that firefighters said may have been caused by a space heater used to warm a bedroom.

fire victims.jpg (19484 bytes)
Rebecca Zizi, 9, and Rooben Zizi, 11, the two children who died in the Dorchester fire early today. (Zizi family photos)

The fire broke out shortly after midnight in the three-decker on Bellevue Street. Rebecca Zizi, 9, and her brother, Rooben, 11, died in the blaze, Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said this morning at the fire site.

The Zizi family had been celebrated Rebecca's 9th birthday Friday, eating cake and giving her gifts.

"Our prayers and our thoughts go out to this family," Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a telephone interview. " We're there to assist them in any we can in this tragic time in their lives."

Eight adults and eight children escaped the fire. Two firefighters were treated for minor burns and released this morning from the hospital.

The investigation of the blaze is continuing, MacDonald said. But there was a space heater in the first-floor room where the fire started, leading investigators to consider it a potential cause.

"You wonder why people didn't get out, but they're children and the fire -- it was intense," said MacDonald.

The family, which moved from Haiti about a year ago, is staying at a Boston hotel tonight.

Junior Zizi, 14, and some siblings had been sleeping in the room where the fire broke out. "Everyone was coughing," he said.

Firefighters recovered a photo from the apartment where the fire began that showed the family dressed up and smiling.

Rebecca and Rooben were among six siblings who lived with their parents on the first floor, according to Junior Zizi.

"The message we want to get out is that space heaters in bedrooms are very dangerous. We see this way too often," Fire Chief Kevin MacCurtain said last night.

About 60 firefighters with 10 to 15 engines responded to the fire.

MacDonald said the remaining family members and the people who lived on the building's second and third floors would be offered shelter by the American Red Cross. Damage to the building was estimated at $300,000, he said.

A half hour after the fire began, the flames had been extinguished but the fire was still billowing smoke as firefighters worked inside the building.

The narrow, hilly street was crowded with fire engines. Neighbors stood on their porches and in the streets to watch.

After another hour, the smoke had stopped. The left rear corner of the building could be seen, burnt down to the frame on the first and second floor.

Gary and Mona Zizi yelled and screamed on the porch of a building across the street and had to be restrained by EMTs.

They were taken away on stretchers with a third woman, identified as the children's godmother.

Eight-year-old Lieyon Canton, who awoke to the screams of his 15-year-old brother, Wultdon, to get out of the house, ran down from their third-floor apartment in just shorts and a T-shirt. His mother, over the pleas of her three children, ran back into the house to get him a coat and socks.

“I’m just happy we’re alive,” said Wultdon, who went back to the building this afternoon to collect their belongings.

Matt Canton, 21, who lived on the third floor of the burned building, said this morning he was relieved to have escaped.

He said he was acquainted with the family that had suffered the loss, but didn't know them well. "They smiled and said hello," he said. "They had beautiful kids."

An elderly woman who lived across the street said she knew the family as "friendly, churchgoing people."

"That's the one thing that I really liked about them. They took their kids to church every Sunday," she said.

This morning, a next-door neighbor dressed in a bathrobe watched firefighters working on the site. "It just seems hard to believe and questionable about how something like that could happen," said John Odams.

Reprinted from The Boston Globe of Sunday, December 30, 2007.

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