MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Two toddler boys playing with a cigarette lighter accidentally started a fire early Sunday that killed their three young cousins, police said.
The boys, ages 2 and 3, were in the second floor kitchen of a two-story building when they started the fire about 1 a.m. Sunday, police Capt. Sue Edman said.
After the fire started, they ran to the room of their 24-year-old mother and her 40-year-old sister, Edman said. The women broke a window and screamed and a man on the second floor of the building next door heard them, she said.
He then broke his bathroom window and helped the women and boys across the approximate 6-foot space into his apartment, Edman said.
The women were overcome by smoke and couldn't go back to rescue Iralisha S. Hinton, 6, Zaria I. Hudson, 3 and Zacarra A. Hinton, 2, who were sleeping in an adjacent bedroom, Edman said. Two girls died in the house and another died at Children's Hospital in Wauwatosa, Edman said.
The girls' mother, 22-year-old Aleisha K. Hudson, had dropped the girls off earlier in the evening to stay with their two aunts and came back after the fire started, Edman said.
Milwaukee Fire Lt. Lawrence Jenkins said the smoke alarms were not working and could have prevented the deaths.
``That's the one thing we stress first and foremost: Smoke detectors save more lives than firefighters ever do,'' he said.
Jenkins estimated the damage, confined mostly to the apartment, was about $11,000.
There is a day care business on the first floor of the building, but no one was there, Edman said. Jenkins said it sustained minor water damage.
The family had just moved in about two weeks ago, Edman said.
Betty Hampton, 46, lives across the street and said she heard the women screaming, then saw the women handing the children over to the neighbor.
``It was really sad and it was sad that they couldn't get out of the house,'' she said.
Donna Rich, 48, who lives about six houses away, saw a woman who she thought was the girls' mother outside the burning building.
``She was just screaming,'' she said. ``There were four or five people holding her back.''