- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 14, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — House fires in Indiana and Michigan on Saturday killed 6 children as well as another person. One man survived in each of the fires.

In Indianapolis, a man trying to find a way out his burning home got trapped in its bathroom Saturday and could only listen in horror to the screams of two of his children, who died in the fire along with his girlfriend, friends and authorities said. The man escaped by breaking a window and jumping out.

In Flint, Mich., a fire that apparently started after a father fell asleep while cooking killed his child and three other young children he was baby-sitting, authorities said.

Daniel Fox, 37, told Indiana fire investigators he ran into the first-floor bathroom of the two-story rental house, looking for a way out for himself and the three others after the blaze broke out around 6 a.m. The door, which had no doorknob, closed behind him, and he couldn’t open it.

Mr. Fox’s children apparently were overcome by smoke as they pounded on the door, yelling for their father during the chaos of the fire, which Mr. Fox escaped by smashing out a small bathroom window and jumping out, said Capt. Rita Reith of the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Family friend David Wethington said Mr. Fox, bleeding from cuts from the broken glass, tried to re-enter the burning home on Indianapolis’ east side but was driven back by dense smoke and flames shooting from its windows.

He said Mr. Fox is anguished that he couldn’t save his children and girlfriend.

“They were screaming, saying, “Help, help, help!” Mr. Wethington said. “He heard them hollering, and he tried to get in there. He’s dying inside because he couldn’t get to them in time. It’s killing him that he couldn’t save his own kids.”

Mr. Fox’s girlfriend, Cheryl Strong, 32, and his 16-year-old son, Michael Fox, died at the scene, while his 8-year-old daughter, Kelsey Fox, was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Mr. Wethington said Mr. Fox’s children lived with Mr. Fox’s mother and usually visited their father on weekends. Fox also has a teenager daughter who did not make the trip this weekend.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, but Capt. Reith said Mr. Fox told investigators he believes an electric space heater started the blaze.

In the fire’s aftermath, passers-by stopped to look at the gutted home, which was surrounded by scorched shingles, pieces of wood and children’s books, the heavy snowfall around the home blackened with soot and firefighters’ footprints.

A large plush Scooby-Doo doll wearing a wizard’s cape sat on the deck that Mr. Fox jumped onto from the bathroom window, partially covered with fire debris.

The home’s owner and next-door neighbor, 78-year-old Donald LaRue, said Mr. Fox and Ms. Strong had moved into the home about 6 months ago and were a friendly, quiet couple.

He said neighbors pounded on his door, yelling that the property next door was on fire, and he helped them break out the window in the home’s back door, but the smoke was too dense to enter and flames were shooting out of the windows.

“It’s a horrible thing,” Mr. LaRue said, his voice choking with emotion.

Capt. Reith said Mr. LaRue told fire investigators he had provided the home with working smoke detectors but that his tenants often took the batteries out for other uses. She said it wasn’t clear if the home had functioning smoke detectors.

Jessica Johnson, who lives two houses from the gutted house with her husband and their two young children, said she was shaken by the tragedy, although she did not know the home’s residents.

She and her husband ran outside in 15-degree weather when they heard a commotion and saw the home engulfed in flames, later watching as a body was removed from the house.

“I can’t even imagine what it must be like for him, to know that there was nothing he could do,” Mrs. Johnson said of Mr. Fox.

The Michigan fire started at about 11 p.m. Saturday in the kitchen of a town house, Fire Battalion Chief Andy Graves told the Flint Journal.

The man who was baby-sitting the four children, who were between the ages of 1 and 4 years old, apparently dozed off while cooking, Chief Graves said. A neighbor saw smoke and flames coming from the home and banged on the door to wake the occupants.

The 28-year-old father was able to escape through a first-floor window, but none of the children got out, Capt. Graves said.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” he said.

Melinda Stewart, a neighbor whose three children were playmates of the children who were killed, said she called 911 in a panic.

“I was just screaming to 911, ‘The babies are inside!’” Ms. Stewart said.

The fire was brought under control but flared up again early Sunday, destroying Ms. Stewart’s apartment and possessions.

Fire Battalion Chief Theresa Root told WJRT-TV said it took fire crews seven minutes to arrive at the scene because a nearby firehouse had been closed because of budget cuts.

“Every 30 seconds, fire doubles. And in three to four minutes, you can have a whole house, the structure of the house fully involved inside with flames,” Chief Root said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article from Flint.

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