Nine people, including five children and four adults, died early on Monday in Memphis’ deadliest house fire in decades, and one other child is fighting for life at a hospital, authorities said.
Firefighters were called to a house in south Memphis and found light smoke coming from the one-story, wood-frame residence, Memphis Fire Services Director Gina Sweat said at a news conference.
Fire crews entered the house and found four adults and three children dead inside, Sweat said. Two other children died after being taken to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in extremely critical condition, she said.
One other child remains hospitalized, said Sweat, calling it the deadliest fire in Memphis since the 1920s. More recently, seven people died in a fire here in 2008, fire department spokesman Wayne Cooke said. The identities of the dead have not been released. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland asked for prayers for family members of the dead.
“It’s a very sad day,” Strickland said. “We are all in mourning.”
The fire apparently began in the living room, but an exact cause has not been determined, Sweat said. Some of the victims had signs of smoke inhalation, while others had burns, she said.
A smoke detector was found the building, but it was damaged and officials didn’t immediately know if it was working at the time of the fire, Sweat said. The home also had bars on the windows. Sweat said it was not immediately clear if those inside tried to escape through the windows.
Sweat said window bars present a danger for people trying to escape a house fire, though many window bars have releasesthat can open them from the inside.
“They could have been simply overcome by smoke and never had an opportunity to escape,” she said.
Sweat went to the site and spoke with firefighters. “You could feel the heavy in their hearts, and you could see the pain in their eyes,” she said.