Autopsies Show Cleveland Fire Victims Died of Smoke Inhalation

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The mother and eight children killed in a weekend house fire during a sleepover all died of smoke inhalation, the coroner ruled.

Three autopsies were done Saturday after the pre-dawn fire, and the remaining autopsies were conducted Sunday by the Cuyahoga County Coroner's office.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, but apparently was accidental, according to Fire Chief Paul Stubbs. He expects investigators to complete their work sometime this week.

''We're going to take our time and make sure we know exactly what the cause is,'' the chief said.

Fire investigators looked through debris Sunday using instruments that would detect materials that could have made the fire burn so fast. Investigators were checking to see if the smoke detectors in the house were working.

The house had no building-code violations as of the last inspection, a city official said.

The blackened house was still cordoned off Monday and a police car stood vigil at a growing curbside memorial of colorful balloons and stuffed animals. The Red Cross said it would help with funeral expenses and a bank set up a burial fund.

The Red Cross made grief counselors available.

Adella Gary, 77, who lived in an adjacent home, was saved when neighbors banged on her door and dragged her out. Two men carried her husband, who lost a leg to diabetes, down the stairs.

''I heard some popping, some pop-pop-popping, and I thought, 'Somebody's shooting out here,''' Gary said. ''So I opened my window, and when I did I saw a flame burst out'' of the house next door.

Eleven people were in the home when the blaze started about 3 a.m. Saturday, Assistant Fire Chief Brent Collins said. Two people survived and one was hospitalized in the MetroHealth Medical Center burn unit after suffering critical burns.

The other survivor suffered minor injuries.

Community leaders plan to hold nightly vigils until all the bodies are buried. About 200 people gathered outside the charred house for the first vigil Saturday night, some of them holding candles.

The neighborhood about three miles from downtown Cleveland contains older homes that are rented to lower-income families. Many of the houses have been refurbished, but a few are boarded up.

At Daniel E. Morgan elementary school Sunday afternoon, Principal Marsha Curtis remembered four of the victims as popular, distinct students.

''They were leaders,'' she said. ''They always had kids following them, wanting to be around them.''