JONAH FLORES was powerless to help himself. He was only 10 months old. Those who could have made a difference in his young life were not there when they were needed. His mother and grandmother were several blocks away. His 83-year-old great-grandmother, who was caring for him and three other children in the dark, two-bedroom apartment, said the smoke in the burning apartment was too thick and flames were coming out of the window. The Sunday morning apartment fire, as recounted by Post staff writer Sari Horwitz yesterday, reportedly was started by a tiny burning candle because Pepco had shut off the electricity in the apartment the previous week. Last Tuesday, Jonah's mother, Fritzie Flores, turned to the D.C. Energy Office for emergency assistance and was told that power would be turned on within 48 hours. However, while Jonah was being severely burned on Sunday morning, the paperwork approving emergency funds to restore power to his home was sitting in the desk of a city worker. It had been there since Thursday night.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the Columbia Heights neighborhood where Jonah lived, has called for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. His call has been echoed by Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, who said, "It would be everyone's worst nightmare if aid for turning the electricity back on was not handled appropriately and expeditiously." The whole city would agree.
An investigation should shed light on why power was cut off this time -- the city had also provided emergency financial assistance to the family earlier this year -- and on the behavior of D.C. Energy Office workers. If, in fact, the family applied for assistance on Tuesday, and Pepco confirmed to the city's emergency coordinator on Wednesday that the power was off, why did paperwork approving assistance not reach Richard Kirby, chief of the energy assistance division, until the end of the day Thursday? Even more mystifying, Mr. Kirby said he left paperwork approving funds for Pepco in the desk drawer of a subordinate, so she could call Pepco. That employee failed to come to work on Friday, as did two of Mr. Kirby's aides. Why were emergency documents allowed to languish in a desk drawer?
A candle may have started the blaze that took Jonah's life. But was it bureaucratic indifference that kept the electricity turned off?