Fires trapped four families inside their homes early Saturday in Minnesota, Ohio, suburban Chicago and Washington state, killing 16 children and five adults.
In Burbank, Ill., a smoke alarm was still blaring as firefighters rushed into a burning split-level home just after 3 a.m. A 62-year-old man and six children, ages 3 to 16, were trapped on the top floor.
The seven were pulled from the house alive but died at the hospital, Fire Lt. Timothy Kaufmann said. All suffered burns and smoke inhalation. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
“All we know is it started in the front room, and - from the neighbors - there was a big explosion. It was probably the windows blowing out,” Fire Chief Martin Kreil said.
A woman who was nine-months pregnant escaped and called for help. Neighbors pulled another woman from the blaze. Both were hospitalized in stable condition.
Bob Pelech said he and another neighbor tried to help but were driven back by smoke.
“I put my head in the window, and it was just too smoky. I couldn’t go in,” Pelech said. “I kept on yelling, ‘People, come to the window!’ … No one came to the window.”
The victims’ identities were not immediately confirmed, Kreil said.
In Moorhead, Minn., across the state line from Fargo, N.D., a woman and her six children, ages 2 to 10, died in a fire that was confined to the living room of a threebedroom apartment.
A neighbor said the family had moved into the apartment at the start of the year after a fire damaged their home in another part of town.
“They were lucky to be alive the first time. This time no one was lucky,” said Norman Garcia, as he and his wife and four children stood barefoot in the snow in 15-degree weather outside the four-unit building.
A smoke detector inside the apartment apparently was not working, Fire Chief Gary Schulz said. The cause of the fire, which began at about 6:15 a.m., was not immediately known.
Police identified the woman as Teri Ann Carrillo, 31.
Outside Hoquiam, Wash., on the shore of Grays Harbor, an early morning fire engulfed a home, killing two young boys, their mother and grandmother.
Neighbors rushed to the house and banged on doors and windows, but thick smoke and flames prevented them from entering.
“We knew they were in there, and we knew there wasn’t anything we could do,” neighbor Ernie Shumate said.
Grays Harbor County sheriff’s detectives said the blaze apparently started in a wood-burning stove in the living room, where the 66-year-old grandmother was sleeping. Her daughter and 6- and 8-year-old grandsons were believed to be sleeping in two back bedrooms.
In Columbus, Ohio, three family members died in a fire that began at about 4 a.m.
“You couldn’t see the house, between the smoke and the fire blazing up,” neighbor Debbie Little said.
Flames were already shooting out to the sidewalk by the time firefighters arrived, Battalion Chief Howard White said.
Four children - including a boy who jumped from a second-story window - escaped the flames and were treated at a hospital.
Police identified the victims as John Hilton, 35, Diana Hilton, 9, and Christine Hilton, 7.