Mich. house fire kills 4 young kids; dad escapes

FLINT, Mich. (AP) - A fire that apparently started after a man fell asleep while cooking swept through an apartment building, killing the man's young child and three others he was baby-sitting, authorities said.

The fire started at about 11 p.m. Saturday in a kitchen in one of the building's six town houses, said Rod Slaughter, executive director of the Flint Housing Commission. Neighbors spotted flames and smoke, and banged on the doors of the unit to wake the 28-year-old father, who escaped through a first-floor window, Fire Battalion Chief Andy Graves said. They unsuccessfully tried to coax one of the children to jump from a second-floor window.

"They were able to reach one child, but they couldn't get her to jump," Graves said Sunday. The children were between the ages of 1 and 4 years old.

Smoke detectors either were not working or the residents of the unit where the fire started did not heed them, Graves said. The apartment was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. Flint Public Safety Director Al Lock said firefighters arrived at the building within minutes of the emergency call.

"They did all that they could to try to reach the children," Lock said at a news conference Sunday night.

He said when the firefighters found the children they could not be revived. Pink and blue balloons, teddy bears and candles were placed outside the burned town house in an impromptu memorial for the victims.

The neighborhood is pockmarked by vacant lots and boarded-up single-family homes in a battered industrial city hard-hit by the loss of tens of thousands of General Motors Corp. jobs over recent decades.

Chiquana Richey, a former resident of the complex, raced to the scene after getting a call from a friend soon after the blaze broke out. The mother of two children returned there Sunday. "I couldn't imagine what it would be like to lose my children like that. I couldn't live. I live for my children," said Richey, 32.

Melinda Stewart, a neighbor whose three children played with the children who died, said she called 911 in a panic after the fire erupted. "I was just screaming to 911, 'The babies are inside,"' Stewart told The Flint Journal.

It took firefighters hours to bring the blaze under control but it flared up again early Sunday, destroying Stewart's apartment and possessions and those of other neighbors. The fire spread through a common attic and damaged all of the six units in the two-story apartment building, part of a sprawling, low-rise complex run by the housing commission, a public agency.

The housing commission was working to find new lodging for five families displaced by the fire, Slaughter said.

"No matter how bad the economy is, Flint and Genesee (County) will come together," Slaughter said, listing a range of community groups that were offering food, clothing and furniture to the families.

One of the displaced neighbors, Bishetta Buford, said she hoped to move into a new public housing unit on Monday. Her apartment suffered smoke and water damage.

"It was just a disaster," she said.

Slaughter said the city recently closed a nearby fire station because of budget cuts, but he believed the response time by firefighters had been adequate.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)