2-year-old boy killed in South Merced house fire

05/22/2012 2:58 PM

05/23/2012 12:41 AM

A 2-year-old boy was killed in a fire at a South Merced apartment complex Tuesday morning, the Merced Police Department reported.

Kareem Butler Jr. was trapped in a bedroom after the fire started in one of three units at an apartment building in the 100 block of East 12th Street, police said.

By the time fire crews arrived -- four minutes after getting the report -- the boy was dead, according to Merced City Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin.

Results of the preliminary investigation revealed the fire started in the boy's bedroom, where his 5-year-old sibling was playing with a lighter, McLaughlin said.

The boy's brother accidentally set fire to a blanket and attempted to put it out, McLaughlin said. When that failed, he ran out of the room to get his mother. When they returned, she wasn't able to get the bedroom door open.

By that time, McLaughlin said, the fire had progressed so far that the woman and her 5-year-old were barely able to escape from the burning apartment.

Some family members suffered minor smoke inhalation, he said.

It's the first fire fatality in Merced in about a year, McLaughlin said. "Obviously it's a very difficult time right now," he said.

Family members said they would miss the toddler, known by his nickname of "Nunu." He often used his big smile to try to get out of going to bed at night, his family recalled.

The boy's father, Kareem Butler Sr., was at work when the fire happened. "He would put a smile on your face, and come and love you and give you a hug," he said.

The toddler's aunt, Cassandra Butler, said her nephew was a big flirt. "I love my nephew. He's not here anymore. I love my nephew," she said.

Allen Esters, the boy's uncle, said the situation was a "complete loss," adding that "he was well loved."

Four engines, a truck, and a battalion chief and the fire chief responded to the scene, putting out the fire in about 15 minutes, according to fire officials.

The fire spread to other areas of the unit and into the attic, McLaughlin said. No other residents of the apartment complex were injured.

One resident might be temporarily displaced because of the cleanup. Fire officials said there was no estimated cost of damages to the structure.

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