St. Joseph fire claims six lives

Sunday, August 12, 2007
St. Joseph firefighters looked at a house where a fire claimed the lives of six people early Saturday in St. Joseph, Mo. A fire broke out in the home early Saturday, killing six people and injuring one, according to the St. Joseph Fire Department. There were no smoke alarms in the home, which was destroyed, said fire inspector Steve Henrichson. (Todd Weddle ~ St. Joseph News-Press)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- A fire broke out in a home early Saturday, killing six members of a family and injuring one person, according to the St. Joseph Fire Department.

There were no smoke alarms in the home, which was destroyed, said fire inspector Steve Henrichson. The names of the victims, believed to be four children and two adults, weren't released Saturday. Autopsies were scheduled.

"I guarantee the family would have got out alive if they'd just had one working smoke alarm," Henrichson said.

Neighbors said the family had lived at the house for about a year and a half. A man, believed to be the father of the family, was reported to be the survivor and was being treated for injuries.

Fire department investigators were continuing to search for a cause for the slow-burning fire that was largely contained on the first floor. Henrichson said it appeared to have started in a first-floor room, on the front west side of the house, near an electrical outlet where a window air-conditioning unit was plugged in.

The father escaped the two-story frame structure by leaping out of a second-story window on the west side, said Capt. Kevin Castle, a spokesman for the St. Joseph Police Department.

All six victims were found on the second floor, Castle said.

The fire call went out at 5:32 a.m., and when the first truck arrived, another alarm was called out, said Paris Jenkins, acting fire chief.

A second alarm was called in and eight units with 23 firefighters and four staff ended up at the scene, said Jenkins. The fire was out by about 6:30 a.m., although firefighters had to re-enter the home at about 9:20 a.m. with hoses and a chainsaw after a hot spot was discovered in the attic above the second floor, Henrichson said.

Crime scene investigators arrived on the scene at about 7 a.m. and cordoned off the area in front of the house. Emergency personnel said they thought the oldest boy, the mother's child from a prior marriage, had died in the fire, until he showed up at about 9 a.m.

Floyd Ferguson, a fire department chaplain and inspector, drove the boy to Heartland Regional Medical Center to be with family members.

As word spread of the fire, friends of the family and classmates of the boys drifted toward the home. Angela Hedding said the two younger boys who died in the fire used to spend the night with Hedding and her son.

"Thank God, my son wasn't there last night," Hedding said.

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