Official: Improperly spliced cords caused fire that killed 5

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FILE - Des Plaines firefighters work at the scene of a house fire on Wednesday morning, Jan. 27, 2021, in Des Plaines, Ill. A fire at a suburban Chicago apartment that killed four young girls and their mother last year was caused by two electrical cords that had been improperly spliced together, a fire official said, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (Mark Welsh//Daily Herald via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

DES PLAINES, Ill. (AP) — A fire at a suburban Chicago apartment that killed four young girls and their mother last year was caused by two electrical cords that had been improperly spliced together, a fire official said.

One cord was part of a space heater that had been the focus of the fire investigation from the outset, while the other was a heavy-duty extension cord plugged into a wall outlet, said Division Chief Dave Schuman of Des Plaines’ fire prevention bureau.

Schuman said Wednesday that the space heater was inside the family’s second-floor apartment near a stairway and the extension cord was plugged into a kitchen outlet, The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reported.

The Jan. 27, 2021, fire in Des Plaines trapped the victims inside because there was no safe exit other than the stairs, officials said at the time. The fire killed Cithlaly Zamudio, 25, and her daughters, Renata Espinosa, 6, Genesis Espinosa, 5, Allison Espinosa, 3, and Grace Espinosa, 1.

Juan Manuel Espinosa, Zamudio’s husband and the girls’ father, wasn’t home when the fire occurred and he has since moved out of state, Schuman said.

Forensic electrical engineers hired by an insurance company and an attorney for the family’s estate examined the building and debris inside last June as part of their investigations, Schuman said. They concluded that the spliced cords caused the fire, he said.

The ends of the cords had been cut off so the wires inside could be spliced, but as manufactured, the male end of the heater’s electrical cord and the female end of the extension cord did not match, Schuman said.

“If those wires aren’t connected properly, it can generate heat and that electrical cord can arc,” he said, referring to when electricity jumps from one connection to another.

The resulting electrical flash could be seen in surveillance video from a municipal facility across the street from the family’s apartment.

Investigators don’t know who spliced the cords.

Strings of Christmas lights inside the apartment were also improperly wired to each other, but Schuman said they likely weren’t to blame for the fire.