Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

October 18, 2005

Candle cause of fire that killed girl

By ALTA MAYHUGH

NEWTON — A fire that ripped through a Newton home Sunday and killed a 5-year-old girl was caused by “careless, unattended use of a candle,” according to the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office.

A candle was burning in the kitchen and the shelf above it had papers that caught fire, said Patti Thompson, communications manager for the state fire marshal’s office. Also, there were no operational smoke detectors in the house, Thompson said.

Alex Renee Kistner of Chatsworth died as the result of a house fire that started at approximately 12:22 a.m. Sunday at 209 Owens St. in Newton, where her father Randy Kistner lived.

She was pronounced dead at 1:42 a.m. Sunday at St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital, Effingham, by an emergency room physician.

A neighbor saved one little girl’s life that fateful morning as he attempted to rescue all three children, who were trapped in the house.

Josh Reynolds was awake past midnight watching television with his son when he heard someone outside screaming.

Reynolds jumped up and looked outside. Smoke and flames were rising from the home catty-cornered to his. He told his wife to call 911, watch their son and ran out to help.

Upon arrival, Reynolds asked the man, Randy Kistner, if everyone was outside the home. He said no, the children were still inside, Reynolds said.

Reynolds got inside the southeast bedroom, where the children slept, and felt around but there was so much smoke and he didn’t feel anything. Then Kistner’s fiance Amanda Plummer said the children were in the northeast bedroom, so Reynolds busted out that window, went inside and found the youngest child, a 3-year-old girl.

He pulled her out and began administering CPR because she had a faint heartbeat and was unconscious. The girl began breathing again and another neighbor, a certified nurse’s assistant, stayed by her side, Reynolds said.

By then a Newton police officer arrived at the scene and rescued the boy. However, Alex Kistner didn’t make it out in time.

The fire injured the four other family members, including Randy Kistner, Plummer and two children. They were taken to St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital, Effingham, and their conditions are unknown because the hospital doesn’t release patient information.

Alex Kistner was visiting her father in Newton for the weekend. Authorities are not releasing the names and ages of the other two children.

The Wade Fire Protection District was at the scene until 9:27 a.m. Sunday and had help from Oblong firefighters. The fire caused extensive damage to the home but it may not have been a total loss, according to Dorn.

Alex Kistner’s death has been difficult for some of her peers to deal with. Danel Harr, principal of Chatsworth Elementary School, said the girl who used to lay down next to Alex Kistner during rest time in their kindergarten class had trouble Monday realizing Kistner wasn’t coming back.

Harr was notified of the incident Sunday and called an emergency meeting of the school faculty and staff. Harr went to each classroom of the school to explain the situation, and the kindergarten class put together a book for Alex’s mother Julie Stark and stepfather Chad Maurer, both of Chatsworth, Harr said.

Grief counselors also have been available at the school. The school had lost another student a few years ago and planted a tree in his honor; they may do the same for Alex, Harr said.

The Effingham County Coroner’s Office, Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office and Newton Police Department are investigating the incident. An inquest for Alex Kistner will be held at a later date.

Alex’s obituary appears on page A5 today.

Alta Mayhugh can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 131 or amayhugh@effinghamdailynews.com.