- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. (AP) - Two children died and their grandparents were critically injured when a fire fueled by propane bottles destroyed a southeast Missouri home.

The fire broke out about 5:30 a.m. Sunday in Poplar Bluff, a town of about 20,000 residents 120 miles south of St. Louis. Three children, also from Poplar Bluff, were spending the night with their grandparents.

Ten-year-old Phoenix Brannon and his 7-year-old brother, Jayden Brannon, were killed. A 3-year-old brother was rescued by the grandfather, Danny Pierce, and was not injured.

Fire Chief Ralph Stucker said Pierce suffered burns and severe cuts when he went back into the home to try and save the other boys. His wife, Erma Pierce, was found inside the structure and also was apparently trying to rescue the children, Butler County Coroner Jim Akers said.

“It was a rough day for us, for our community,” Stucker said.

Akers said smoke inhalation was the suspected cause of death, but autopsies were planned for Monday. Danny and Erma Pierce both were hospitalized in St. Louis and on life support, Akers said.

The small frame home already was fully engulfed in flames by the time police and firefighters arrived, Stuckey said. The cause remained under investigation, but Stucker said several propane bottles exploded during the fire, making it more difficult to put out the blaze. He wasn’t sure why the propane bottles were inside the home, or if they had a role in igniting the blaze.

Two firefighters were treated for injuries - one suffered a rib injury, the other hurt his leg. Neither required hospitalization.

Extra counselors were in place at the boys’ schools on Monday.

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