Fourth victim dies after Hibbing fire; authorities recount retired firefighter’s attempt to save wife, grandsons
Tuesday’s deadly house fire in Hibbing grew even more tragic on Wednesday, with authorities reporting that a fourth victim had died from his injuries.
Hibbing fire officials also confirmed that one of the victims was a retired fire captain who had saved one of his grandchildren from the early morning fire, but died in an attempt to rescue his wife and two other grandchildren.
Hibbing Fire Marshal Bryan Fagerstrom on Wednesday called it a “devastating situation.”
The Hibbing Fire Department reported Wednesday that Isaiah Anteus Adams, 3, died at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis as a result of the fire that had already claimed the lives of three of his family members. Isaiah’s grandparents, Steven Jon Gillitzer, 67, and Patricia Lynn Gillitzer, 63, couldn’t be revived after being pulled from their burning home by firefighters early Tuesday. Another of the Gillitzers’ grandsons, Todd Jacob Gillitzer Jr., 9, died Tuesday from his injuries.
A third grandson, Jonathan Steven Gillitzer, 8, was found by firefighters outside the home after being saved by his grandfather, and was treated at Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing for what authorities described as minor injuries.
The fire at 212 42nd St. E. was reported by a passerby who called 911 at 1:37 a.m. Tuesday. Smoke detectors were sounding inside the house when first responders arrived. Firefighters from five departments battled the blaze in temperatures around 20 below zero and wind chills as low as 35 below. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
The three boys were staying at their grandparents’ house that night, authorities said. Jonathan told officials that his grandfather woke him up, saying there was a fire and they needed to get out of the house.
“While making their way out of the home Jonathan remembers not being able to see anything
because of the smoke and darkness but remembers his grandfather throwing him out the front door to safety. (Steven) Gillitzer then turned his attention to trying to save the rest of the family. He never emerged from the structure,” Fagerstrom reported in a news release.
Firefighters pulled Steven, Patricia, Todd and Isaiah from the home. None of them were breathing or had a pulse. Three Hibbing police officers and a Hibbing firefighter were able to resuscitate Todd and Isaiah, but Steven and Patricia were pronounced dead at the scene, according to the fire department. Todd died Tuesday and Isaiah succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday.
An online fundraiser set up Tuesday for the family of the two older grandsons described Todd as “an amazing boy, so full of life with an unforgettable laugh and smile.” He was from Benson, Minn., and was listed on the roster this season for a squirt team with Morris-Benson Area Storm Hockey.
The fundraiser, at gofundme.com/jacobsfunds, had collected more than $15,000 in donations as of Wednesday night.
Steven Gillitzer served as a firefighter and paramedic in Hibbing for more than 24 years, retiring in 2000. Some of the firefighters on the scene Tuesday morning had worked with him in the past, “adding a level of difficulty to an already devastating situation,” Fagerstrom said.
Friends described the Gillitzers as a couple who were active in outdoor pursuits and always in good spirits.
“This is a difficult time for our department and community as we rally together to work through this tragic event. We continue to offer support and resources to the family and we continue to work through processing the scene to try and identify what caused the fire,” Fagerstrom said, noting that “a glimmer of hope in this event is that we have heard that many local stores are running out of smoke alarms.”