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7-year-old boy dies in early morning Lovejoy fire

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Michael Mroziak/WBFO News
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An early-morning fire in Buffalo's Lovejoy neighborhood has left a child dead and several others homeless.

The fire broke out inside a home at 59 Benzinger Street around 2:40 a.m. Monday, according to Buffalo Fire Commissioner Vincent Muscarella.

"There was a report of children still inside the building upon location. Engine 28 responded within about two minutes and reported heavy smoke and fire showing," Muscarella said during a news conference in City Hall.

"Our firefighters did a phenomenal job of finding that child in the kitchen, about four to six feet from his bedroom. They started CPR immediately and, unfortunately, that child did perish in that fire."

The preliminary cause of death of 7-year-old Anthony Conti, according to the commissioner, was smoke inhalation.

The cause of the fire itself remained under investigation as of late Monday afternoon.

"It is still very early in the investigation," Muscarella said. "Our fire marshalls are doing the best they can. They were there all night and all morning and they will find a cause."

Anthony Conti, 7, died early Monday morning as the result of a fire in his home at 59 Benzinger Street in Buffalo.
Credit GoFundMe/benzinger-st-fire-conti-family

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Muscarella added that the house's balloon framing, in which the studs extend from the sill plate on the ground level to the top plate of the highest level, allows fire to spread more quickly.

Officials say the narrow width of the street made it impossible for firefighters to get vehicles directly in front of the burning house, so they had to drag hoses up the street from where their trucks could park.

Common Councilmember Richard Fontana represents the Lovejoy District and has known the Conti family for many years.

"This young man was a student at School 43. We used to play basketball together on the street," Fontana said. "His brother and sisters are doing the best they can, they're very strong in the loss of their small brother.

"The 3-year-old was with me this afternoon and she says 'I lost my brother.' All I could do was hug her."

Neighbors expressed shock and grief upon learning of the child's passing. Father Vlad Zablotskyy of Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, located around the block on Ideal Street, lives down the street from the Conti household on Benzinger. He told WBFO he had confirmed three of the Conti children and the youngsters had taken turns watching his dogs on occasions he needed to travel.

"The kids are so wonderful," he said. "All of them. They are so well-behaved. They're kind. The family, Joe and Lisa, they would give you their last shirt to help you out."

This time, it was the neighborhood and wider community who was helping out. By early afternoon, several bags of goods, from clothes to food items to stuffed toys, were being delivered to the Mead branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library on Ludington Street.

In addition, a GoFundMe campaign was launched by Anthony's older sister, Amber Jean, to raise funds to begin the family's financial recovery.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.