5 children among 7 killed in house fire

Published 10:35 pm Saturday, August 16, 2008

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – An early Saturday morning fire killed five children and two adults, but three youths were able to escape and were being treated for burns.

Next-door neighbor Lamar Boyce said he was awakened around 5:30 a.m. by the victims’ cries for help and saw two of the survivors jump from a second-story window.

The two teenagers and an 11-year-old boy who escaped were hospitalized with second-degree burns on their faces and hands, Fire Department spokesman Lt. Keith Staples said.

Boyce said the two-story brick and wood-frame house was engulfed in flames and windows were popping out from the heat when he and his girlfriend, Nikko Moore, rushed to try helping the victims.

“She tried to put the water hose on it to do what we could do, but by that time it was too late,” Boyce said. “It was too much fire. The water hose wouldn’t do nothing.”

Lorenzo Williams, who lives down the street in the low-income neighborhood, said he and several other neighbors also tried to help but flames and smoke turned them back.

“You could hear them screaming, but there was nothing you could do,” Williams said.

Relatives, including the twin sister of the woman who died, gathered hugging and sobbing on a sidewalk near the charred remains of the house. They identified the mother as Melissa Poole, 38, and said four of her children died with her. A niece and nephew who were visiting when the fire broke out also died, family members said.

Alicia Bradley, 31, who said she was Poole’s cousin and was speaking on behalf of the family, gave the ages of those killed: three girls, ages 7, 4 and 9; two boys, ages 1 and 5; and an 18-year-old male.

The top floor of the house was heavily damaged and pieces of the collapsed roof and ceiling covered much of the bottom back floor of the residence. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Most of the victims were found “in the same area, on the first floor at the rear,” Staples said.

The causes of death were not immediately known, Staples said, “but the bodies did appear to have some severe burns.”

There have been several fatal fires in the Memphis area in the last year. Last New Year’s Eve two young boys died in a house fire while police said their mother was out celebrating.

In October a child died and more than two dozen people were left homeless after a pair of fires destroyed an apartment building. Last April, a man and three children, all from Liberia, were found dead after an apartment building caught fire. Eight other residents were injured.

Tennessee has a high rate of fire deaths, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

A report by the federal agency based on 2005 statistics, the latest available, showed the national average was 12.3 deaths per million people while Tennessee’s rate was 27.7, the fifth highest. The District of Columbia had the worst death rate.

The fire administration says climate, poverty, education and demographics are factors in fire fatality rates.