West Toledo fire claims life of 5-year-old girl

A family photo of Danika Caldwell
A family photo of Danika Caldwell
Source: Family photo
Source: Family photo

TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - A little girl is dead after an overnight fire at Palmer Apartments on Wayman Palmer Drive off Douglas in west Toledo.

Five-year-old Danika Caldwell was staying with Latoya Lightner, her aunt, when the fire broke out.  Lightner says she awoke to the smell of smoke and she told Danika to put on clothes. As the family escaped through a window, they realized Danika was not following.

"Unfortunately, when (the family) made efforts to try to get out of the building, she did get lost," said Fire Chief Santiago.  "Once they went back to find her, she became disoriented and was separated from the rest of the family. Conditions progressed where it was too tough to go back and try to find her."

Both Lightner and her 16-year-old son tried to go back into the apartment to help Danika, but the flames were too much.

"What could I have done different? Maybe I should have not told her to put clothes on, maybe I should have just grabbed her. It just replays in my head," Lightner said. "It happened so fast, even when we got out it was so big, so fast that I know there was nothing I could have done different."

The fire was contained to the family's second-floor apartment unit.  All of the family's belongings were destroyed.

"I wanted to do something," said neighbor Kelly Russell. "But when I came out and saw four firefighters try to get the door open and it wasn't happening...I knew it was really terrible."

Two other children were also inside the apartment and made it out safely.  The family has lived in the apartment complex for about three years.

Red Cross has stepped in to help the family.

A firefighter sustained a minor injury while at the scene before being taken to the hospital for further evaluation.

There is no word yet on what caused the fire.

A vigil was held on Friday night at Old Orchard Elementary, where Danika was in first grade.

A 19-year=old Kai Deken was riding his bike when he saw the fire and heard people yelling that a little girl was trapped inside. He says he knew what he had to do.

"I just hopped off my bike, took off my book pack and I tired to get in the window," said Deken.

Deken says he wrapped his shirt around his hand to punch threw the glass and get inside.

"I stepped inside, it was so dark I couldn't even see anything, I didn't even know where to plant my foot and there was stuff exploding, glass exploding in my face, everything around me was melted," said Deken.

He wasn't able to find her but he meant her family at the vigil. They hugged him and told him they take comfort in knowing people did everything they could to save their little girl.

Deken says he was just doing what any normal human being would do. 

A Memorial Fund has been set up at Fifth Third Bank for Danika. Those who wish to donate can go to any bank and ask for the Danika Caldwell Fund.

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