Children critically burned in Colonial Heights fire look '5 times bigger than normal,' mother says

Father: 'Cherish every moment you have with your children'
Cabaniss-Pitts children critically injured in fire.
Posted at 9:54 PM, May 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-22 15:08:20-04

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- On May 15, Cierra Pitts received a devastating phone call.

"I immediately dropped the phone," Pitts said. "I yelled for my boss's husband. I said, 'I got to go. My kids are in a fire. I got to go.'"

Her home in Colonial Heights was up in flames, her three children and their grandmother all inside. Her five-year-old son was able to make it out of the home and alerted a bystander for help.

Cabaniss-Pitts Family
Cabaniss-Pitts Family

That bystander, Bradley Stuller, told CBS's Wayne Covil, the sounds of the other two children's cries while inside the burning home still haunt him.

"The fire is three feet away from me. I can hear the kids six to seven feet away from me," he told Covil.

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Stuller was able to bring the grandmother out of the home. But the two babies, Ava and Nathaniel, one and two-years old, were still inside.

When first responders rescued them, they had to be brought to VCU's burn center. Pitts said they are suffering third and fourth-degree burns. According to the National Children's Hospital, Nathaniel's Roughly 70% of their bodies, each, are badly injured.

Cierra Pitts and Joshua Cabaniss
Cierra Pitts and Joshua Cabaniss

"They wouldn't let us see them for awhile. When we got to see them, they were so swollen, so burnt," said father Joshua Cabaniss.

"They were like five times bigger than their normal size. Their lips looked like they were about to bust," Pitts said.

Cabaniss-Pitts children critically injured in fire.
Cabaniss-Pitts children critically injured in fire.

Though the cause of the fire is still under investigation, officials with Colonial Height Fire say they believe the fire started in the same room the children were in at the time.

"I believe the fire started in, on, or around that sofa area, it's a sectional," said Colonial Heights Deputy Fire Marshall Brett Jennings.

Pitts said a burning mattress in the room fell on Ava and Nathaniel's Pack 'N Play bassinet during the fire, trapping the two.

Cabaniss said he believes Nathaniel, the older of the two, attempted to save his sister.

"You can see that he grabbed that mattress, pushed his head into it, and push it back off Ava, under him. Trying to protect Ava," he said.

Colonial Heights Deputy Fire Marshall Brett Jennings
Colonial Heights Deputy Fire Marshall Brett Jennings

Now, the family says if the babies survive treatment at VCU, they could have anywhere from 50 to 100 surgeries each. Meanwhile, the family grapples with a lack of housing, clothing, and basic necessities.

"Honestly, at this point, we don't know when they're going to wear clothes. All their furniture, beds, clothes, toys, all that, is gone," Cabaniss said. "Everything we've ever learned in parenting, throw that out. We have to adapt to them. Sunlight, they have to through physical therapy, all of that."

Cabaniss and Pitts said their main priority is their children surviving, trying to raise funds for the long road to recovery that may lie ahead.

"Right now, we're just focused on getting them stable," Pitts said.

Cierra Pitts and Joshua Cabaniss
Cierra Pitts and Joshua Cabaniss

"Cherish every moment you have with your children," Cabaniss said. "You take a lot of pictures. Because you don't know what's going to change. It can change in the blink of an eye. And I want everyone to know that."

Pitts started a fundraiser for her two children that can be found here. Pitts said they are also collecting funds on Cash App at $3strongbabies.

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