Seven children were among 11 people who died when a horrific fire trapped them inside a one-story Memphis home early Monday morning.
Pictures of the devastation showed the innards of the brick building torched. The outside of the house was left largely untouched. Metal bars remained over almost all the windows. Only one was broken open, by the fire crew that tried in vain to save the people inside.
“I’ve never seen firemen cry, but they were bawling like babies when they brought the children out,” neighbor Shoundra Hampton told The Tennessean.
Authorities said at a Monday morning news conference that nine people had died, but family members told reporters that 11 people perished.
The cause of the fire was not immediately determined, though Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the blaze began in the living room. The home had only two doors, both in the front of the house, leaving the family without an escape route, FOX13 reported.
Some of the victims had signs of smoke inhalation, while others had burns, Memphis Fire Services Director Gina Sweat said.
Sweat said it was not 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 releases that can open them from the inside.
“They could have been simply overcome by smoke and never had an opportunity to escape,” she said.
A smoke detector was found in 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 children who died ranged in age from 3 to 16 years old, The Tennessean reported. The four adults were Eloise Futrell, 61; Carol Collier, 56; Lakeisha Ward, 27; and an unidentified 18-year-old man.
Collier lived in the house with her 6-year-old son, Alonzo, who died in the fire; Futrell, who was the grandmother of all seven children who died; and several friends, Collier’s sister, Mary Whitmore, told The Tennessean.
“She always tried to help everybody,” Whitmore said. “I can’t believe this.”
Collier called 911, The Tennessean reported, but, by the time first responders arrived around 1:20 a.m., the residents were unable to escape the six-room dwelling.
Officials said the blaze was the deadliest in Memphis since the 1920s. A total of 10 people died in house fires across all of Tennessee in 2015, authorities told FOX13.
“They are all gone,” Futrell’s niece, Elisa Weathersby, told The Tennessean. “Our hearts are ripped in two.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.