The house had smoke detectors but no batteries.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Two little girls died today, huddled under clothes near a second-story bedroom window while fire raged through their South Side home.
Rakaylah Clark, 8, and her sister, Ranoyja Clark, 4, died from smoke inhalation, said acting Battalion Chief Rich Russo. The fire hadn't made it to the bedroom where they ran when alerted by their mother's screams around 12:50 a.m.
Firefighters used a ladder to rescue the girls' mother, Darilyn Clark, and older sisters, Chaunte, 11, and Crystal, 10. The trio escaped by kicking out a second-floor porch window at 33 East Lucius Ave.
Chaunte hurt her foot breaking the window. The survivors were treated at Forum Northside Medical Center.
Shireece Potter, who lives next door, heard a "boom," then saw flames. She called 911 and went outside to call to her neighbor.
Potter said Darilyn Clark was on the porch roof, screaming for help: "Please! Somebody help me get my babies out!"
Potter moved her three children outside for safety. Potter's oldest daughter, Aeryka Gentry, 8, said she stood in her pajamas and watched the firefighters.
The porch roof is littered with broken glass -- and a baby doll. A curtain, dirty from smoke, hangs in the limb of a tree just budding near the second-floor porch roof.
By midmorning, the smell of pungent smoke was still in the air.
The fire, which Russo called suspicious, started near the rear entrance and spread upstairs. Damage is estimated at $25,000 to the large, 21/2-story wooden-frame house with mint-green aluminum siding. Russo said the house's value before the fire was about $50,000.
"The fire was fully charged with thick, black smoke -- too intense to be electrical," Russo said. "They went to bed at 10:30 and the fire was roaring at 12:30. All would have been dead in that time if it had been electrical."
The mother's boyfriend, Russo said, left about 10 p.m.
Lt. Alvin Ware, commander of the arson bureau, was on the scene this morning to investigate.
Russo said the house had smoke detectors, but no batteries inside. He said firefighters find empty smoke alarms "all the time."
The mother told firefighters that she woke up to go to the bathroom around 12:30 a.m. She screamed to her four daughters -- all of whom were in the same upstairs bedroom.
Rakaylah and Ranoyja, instead of following their older sisters, ran to another bedroom, Russo said. No one could see in the dark, smoke-filled house.
The fire department dispatched 24 firefighters -- seven of whom were injured as they tried to rescue the trapped children. Russo said the firefighters suffered everything from smoke inhalation and twisted backs to burns and twisted knees.
"It seemed like forever," Russo said of the time it took to find the girls in the thick smoke. "It probably took 15 minutes. They were found in front of a window, one on top of the other, under clothes."
Crews had entered the house from three areas. As many as 18 firefighters entered the burning building to find the kids, Russo said.
Darilyn Clark, reached at a relative's home this morning, wasn't up to talking about what happened.
Russo said the scene at St. Elizabeth Health Center, where Rakaylah and Ranoyja had been taken, was unruly. At least 50 friends and family members showed up, including the girls' father, who argued with police, Russo said.