BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) -- The Thach family left Vietnam for the United States four years ago to find a better life, but their roots remained a big part of their lives in their tight-knit community, a friend said.
The fire that killed four members of the family early Monday was sure to shake up the Vietnamese community in Bridgeport, Dan Tang said. ''Everybody knows everybody,'' Tang said. ''It's a very close community.''
Luong Thach and her three children, a 14-year-old boy and two girls, 11 and 3, died in the early morning blaze at the three-family home. Her husband, Rinh Thach, was critically injured.
Bruce Collins, the city's fire marshal, said the blaze appeared to be accidental. Investigators found evidence that smoke detectors had been installed in apartments on the first and third floors, but officials did not find them in the second-floor apartment where the fire broke out.
Many of the windows in the home were covered with bars, Collins added, comparing the practice with ''entrapping people'' or ''padlocking a door.'' The deaths came one day after a blaze in Philadelphia killed five children; attempts at rescue there were hampered by security bars on some of the house's windows.
Luong Thach and her son, Anh Thach, were pronounced dead at the scene. Trinh Thach, the 11-year-old was pronounced dead at Bridgeport Hospital and Daisey Thach, 3, was pronounced dead at St. Vincent's Medical Center.
Rinh Thach managed to escape but tried to run back into the burning building to save his family, witnesses said. The 37-year-old held down two jobs to support his family. He was an assembler at a local factory, and on weekends, worked construction.
Nine people were left homeless in the fire.
The fire broke out at about 4:30 a.m. in or near a kitchen on the second floor of the home, said Fire Chief Bruce Porzelt.
Jackie Gonzalez, who lived on the third floor, said she woke up, smelled something, and saw smoke pouring into her window.
She grabbed her two children and a niece and they made it out safely. She said she tumbled down the stairs through the black smoke clutching her 5-year-old daughter.
''I couldn't see nothing, I threw myself to the stairs,'' she said.
She alerted several other tenants who made it out safely.
Porzelt called Gonzalez a heroine.
''She was smart enough under all that pressure, that's like combat. She saved lives.''