Report: Baby girl dies in Cary apartment fire while clinging to her mother's chest

8 June 2022

— A 9-month-old baby girl was killed in a Cary apartment fire in March while clinging to her mother’s chest in a bathtub, according to a fire investigation report obtained by WRAL News.

The child’s mother trapped inside describes a terrifying scene where she did all she could to save her daughter Marlee.

Marymegan Santiago was home with Marlee when she spotted smoke coming from the front door. She called 911, took cover in the bathtub and after about 8 minutes went unconscious from breathing in smoke.

Marlee Santiago died in a Cary apartment fire

“I remember the smoke at the very beginning, but that’s about it,” she said.

Marymegan Santiago spent eight days at the UNC Burn Clinic, including 4 days in a medically-induced coma. She suffered burns on her back, ankles and feet.

Marymegan and her husband Xian Santiago said they relive the experience “almost everyday” or “every second.”

Marlee would have turned one on May 22, and at the time of the fire she was about to take her first steps.

“She was the happiest baby,” Marymegan Santiago said. “She was passed around all the time. Everyone wanted to love on her.”

The family says their community has come together to help them rebuild their life through what has been the hardest challenge they’ve ever experienced.

“We would barely have the clothes on our back if it were not for these people,” she said.

The family has hired an attorney who is still waiting on results from an independent investigation into the fire. The family has not taken any legal action at this time.

Xian Santiago said he hopes what happened to his daughter doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“Whether it be innovation, whether it be the way we build things, whether it be codes, laws, whatever,” he said. “Let’s think about it. Let’s do something.”

Marlee Santiago died in a Cary apartment fire

Investigators with the Cary Fire Department said in a report that a piece cardboard that was improperly stored in the outdoor breezeway of the apartment caught on fire. But ultimately, investigators could not determine how the fire started.

Windy conditions, the investigative report indicted, contributed to fast-moving flames.

Four people were hospitalized from the March 7 fire and five people jumped from the balcony of their apartment building to get to safety.

The fire destroyed 12 apartment buildings and did more than $1.3 million in damages.

“She was nine months and 13 days old. Someone that young shouldn’t lose their life,” Xian Santiago said. “Life is short. Enjoy it. Hug your children. Love them. Carry on with love, that’s all it is. Be nice to people.”

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