Indiana House Fire That Killed 6 Caused by Disregarded Smoking Material

GARY, Ind. (AP) -- A disregarded match or cigarette in a bedroom sparked a fire that killed six people, including four children, investigators say.

Indiana Fire Marshal investigator Jeff Roseboom said the pre-dawn fire Wednesday appeared to have ignited above floor-level, probably in bedding.

Two adults and three children ages 1 to 12 were pronounced dead shortly after the blaze. Another victim, an 11-year-old boy, died Wednesday afternoon at a Chicago hospital. A 7-year-old boy and an adult female remained hospitalized late Wednesday.

Flames and smoke poured from the small house as relatives and neighbors tried to break windows and use a garden hose to rescue eight people, including five children, caught inside. The heat drove the rescuers back, trapping those inside in a deadly cauldron of smoke and flames.

The Lake County coroner's office said all those who died suffered some burns but mostly smoke inhalation.

Initial rescue attempts were hampered by burglar bars on the home's windows, and the smoke detector that firefighters found did not have a battery.

But State Fire Marshal Roger Johnson said that even though the window bars could have blocked an escape route, the smoke inside would have ''rendered the victims helpless.''

''They probably wouldn't have made it that far,'' he said. ''I think the die was cast once the call was placed.

''We're plagued by the tragic loss of life. This possibly could have been prevented had there been a working smoke detector.''

Laura Smith, 37, was dead at the scene. Kenneth Andrews, 35, and the couple's 1-year-old son, Malik Smith, as well as Andrews' sons, Darriontae Andrews, 9, and Andre Andrews, 12, died at a local hospital shortly after the fire. His son, Brandon Andrews, died at the University of Chicago Hospital. And a fourth son, Eric Andrews, 7, was in critical condition late Wednesday, spokeswoman Kristin O'Neill said.

Johnson confirmed that Kenneth Andrews' cousin, Mary Andrews, was able to run from the burning house to a neighbor's home to call 911. She was also hospitalized.

Neighbor Michael Dukes said he ran across the street to the burning house after hearing a woman screaming about 3 a.m. He pulled a young boy from the home's living room, where flames were rolling up the ceiling from a couch.

''I pulled the little boy out, and he tried to go back in,'' said Dukes, a former city firefighter. ''I could only go so far because it was so hot in there.''

Loretta Brown, a sister-in-law of Laura Smith, cried as she looked at the remains of the gutted one-story, wood-frame house on the city's west side near the Indiana Toll Road.

''It's awful,'' she said. ''This is just terrible. She was a good mother to that baby.''

The house is in a neighborhood of small homes, some of them boarded up, others carefully tended.

Neighbors said the couple had rented the house for three years.

Mae Lloyd, who owns the property, said the house had no problems. She declined to comment further.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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