A pre-dawn blaze burned through a small frame house little more than a mile from downtown Pensacola, Florida, on Thursday, claiming the lives of four children, ages 1-3-5-11. Fire officials call it “tragic” that the home didn’t have a single smoke detector.
Escambia County Fire Chief Pat Grace telling Breitbart News “It’s tragic. To see four kids below the age of 11, without a chance to make it out, it breaks our hearts…”
Describing heroic efforts of the firefighters as they arrived on the scene, Chief Grace said “The guys did everything they could, they vaulted through a four foot high window, without the use of a ladder, searched as quickly as they could, without the use of a hose line, found the children all together at once, very quickly, but by the time we found them, it was too late.”
The children were handed off to fireman outside, who carried them across the street to waiting EMS units. Paramedics worked unsuccessfully on reviving the children. The mother and older sister managed to get out of the house, but the family’s dog also died in the inferno.
The tragedy rippled through the city’s African-American community, and before the smoke had cleared, family and friends of the children had gathered. More than 50 people were sharing hugs and tears. At least one collapsed from the emotional strain.
The pale yellow siding on the front of the house was melted, hanging down to the porch. On the south side of the home, the windows were blown out, with scorch marks to the roof. As the morning sunlight was streaming through the front door and windows, you could easily see investigators looking through the rooms and hallway, all charred beyond recognition.
Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May told reporters including Breitbart Texas, “I’ve known the King family my entire life, they’re good children, it’s sad, this really hits home. Right now, we’re just praying for this family.”
A neighbor added in “They were happy kids, they played in their yard, and they never went too far from home. Their mom would sit on the porch, watching them.”
The cause of the fire was revealed by the Aunt of the children, Sharelle Gray, telling the media that “it started yesterday, it was the hot water heater, and they managed to put it out. She (my sister) called me and told me that, and she told me last night that she was scared to go to sleep.”
The lead Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigator on the scene confirmed that to Breitbart Texas, but said they go through every step of the investigation, checking on other possible contributing causes.
A group of different agencies were on-scene to investigate the fatal fire. The Florida State Fire Marshal, along with homicide investigators of the Sheriffs Department. The ATF arrived for assistance. The investigators brought along a yellow Labrador retriever to sniff out accelerants, but his nose wasn’t needed.
Escambia County Deputy Fire Chief Curt Isakson telling WEAR-TV that there was no sign of a smoke detector in the burned wreckage of the house.
Isakson is the department’s expert on fire prevention and smoke detectors, who sounded almost defeated at the fire scene on Thursday morning, saying “We’re happy to install smoke detectors for people, we’ve done it for years, and it’s free.” He added “Most departments in the nation do it, and we know it saves lives.” He then produced an e-mail from the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD, which is part of FEMA, listing more than 400 deaths by fire in the United States for calendar year 2016. “Only six weeks into the year, and now more than 400 people have died.” He said, “We’re not even sure if this covers all fire deaths, perhaps some rural departments don’t report them…”
Those numbers show that more people have died in fires this year than in mass shootings or terrorist attacks in the United States for the last several years, combined.
A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help the family and cover funeral costs. The children’s father, Michael King, is an inmate in the Florida prison system.
With 41 years in the fire service, a career saving lives and property, Chief Pat Grace said “It does not get any worse than this. Unfortunately, it’s still happening in this day and age, and blows my mind.”
Rob Milford is a reporter for Breitbart Texas. You can follow him on Twitter