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Three little boys were killed in a raging apartment fire just blocks from Yankee Stadium Friday night - a tragedy that may have been sparked by candles the family lit after their power was shut off, authorities and neighbors said.
Elijah Artis, 5, Jeremiah Artis, 2, and little Michael Turner, 4 months, died after being rushed to Lincoln Hospital from the fast-moving Bronx blaze in the six-story building at 64 W. 165th Street, which started at about 8 p.m, authorities said. "I heard the kids screaming for help," said upstairs neighbor Christopher Rodriguez, 33. "I saw the firemen bringing out one kid. He looked like he was already dead. It was the oldest boy. His body was just black." A 25-year-old woman, a 4-year-old girl and a 4-month-old girl were treated for smoke inhalation and were in stable condition, cops said.
Heartbroken neighbors identified the 25-year-old woman only as Tashika, and said she was the mother of the three boys and the two injured girls."I ran upstairs to the second floor and I saw Tashika. She had a toddler with her. She was screaming, 'My children, my children!' I couldn't get in because the flames were so high," said downstairs neighbor Katelcia Gillard, who called 911.
"They didn't have electricity for the last couple of days. I heard there were candles burning," said neighbor Jose Vasquez, who added that the utility workers who had turned off the power told him the family owed lots of money.
"Her power was turned off and the Red Cross came yesterday to help her. She refused to see them and she went to the corner store to buy candles," said neighbor Charles Worth Ryan.
"The owner made her promise not to use them at night."
A worker at a nearby bodega said Tashika came in Friday evening and bought a 12-pack of "Magic Light" candles for $1.19. "I just saw the boys playing outside yesterday. They gave me a kiss and said, 'Hey, Auntie Val,' " said Valerie Frazier, 47.
"I walked by their door 10 minutes before the fire happened. I heard them playing. Now I'll never hear them playing again."
Frazier described her family's frenzied flight from the deadly blaze, which started about 8 p.m.
"It was terrifying. I had to grab my kids and climb down the fire escape. I just panicked and started screaming and crying," she said.
"I tried to get out of the front door, but the smoke came in so I slammed the door and we all went out the window."
Downstairs neighbor Keisha Smith cried as she remembered the rambunctious youngsters.
"I would always hear them stomping above me, playing with each other. I don't know how I can live in this building and not hear them."
A ConEd rep couldn't immediately confirm that the power had been shut off.