Five children left alone by the father of four of them when he went out Christmas and grocery shopping died when a fire raced through their two-story duplex Saturday evening, police in Bullhead City, Arizona said. All five were grandchildren of a local fire department employee, police said. Neighbors said they tried their best to get inside to get anyone who was there out but couldn’t.
A 13-year-old boy, 5-year-old boy, 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, all brothers and sisters who lived there and an 11-year-old boy relative who was visiting all perished, police said, adding that all were in the same upstairs bedroom.
Firefighters arrived four minutes after the blaze was called in, police said.
According to police, the early investigation showed that the flames started in the downstairs foyer, which probably made it impossible for the children upstairs to flee. The fire traveled up the only staircase inside the home, keeping them from getting out.
The identifies of the five were being withheld pending official identification by the Mohave County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Police said that, because of the relationship between the fire department worker and the children, investigators from the Lake Havasu City (Ariz.) Fire Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) were called in to assist them with the probe and are the ones trying to figure out how the blaze started.
According to police, several neighbors reportedly tried rescue efforts, including placing an extension ladder to the upstairs bedroom.
CBS Phoenix affiliate KPHO-TV reports that Bullhead City is a relatively small and close-knit community. “Tight knit, everybody looks out for each other,” neighbor Patrick O’Neal remarked to the station. “Those of us with kids look out for all the other kids in the neighborhood.”
Neighbors like O’Neal rushed when they saw the flames. “We came around the corner and we saw the smoke coming up so we knew it was right here,” he said.
About a dozen men gathered hoses and broke windows to try to get into the home, O’Neal told KPHO. “We pulled the garage door open, there was guys pulling stuff out,” O’Neal said. “The closer we got to the door there was smoke starting to come into the garage and choking people out.”
O’Neal said they knew children lived here but didn’t know if they were home. “We were screaming at the top of our lungs,” he said. “We didn’t see nothing, we didn’t hear nothing. There’s many guys out here who would’ve went into that fire if we would have known there was children.”
Neighbors said they were still shaken up but appreciated those who stepped up. “We did everything we could and thank you to everyone that did try to help,” O’Neal said.