Seven Children Dead in Toledo, Ohio Apartment Fire

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- Joe Jaramillo climbed the staircase with smoke searing his eyes and the cries of seven trapped children ringing in his ears. But he couldn't get any closer.

``They were yelling 'Help us,' but I couldn't do anything. I had to come back for air,'' he said.

Seven children died after a fire broke out in a Toledo apartment Sunday afternoon, authorities said. The victims were five sisters, their brother and a girl cousin, ages six months to 7 years old, relatives said.

``They were the sweetest kids,'' said Denise Sanders, grandmother of three of the children.

Five of the children died at area hospitals soon after the blaze, a sixth died several hours later and the seventh died early Monday morning, said a spokeswoman for St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

The Lucas County coroner's office said Monday it had not completed identifying the victims.

Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire, which started in one of the rear bedrooms on the second floor, said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Metzger. They did not know if the two smoke detectors were working, he said.

People placed teddy bears, balloons and burning candles in a memorial outside Monday.

The children were always outside playing tag, hide-and-seek or ``any game their imagination would give them,'' said their uncle, Kevin McGowan.

Jaramillo said he ran into the two-story apartment and tried to get upstairs where the children were trapped, as the mother of the six siblings stood outside screaming that her babies were inside. Jaramillo, 36, said he had been visiting his daughter in the area.

Five to six people tried to get inside but also were repelled by smoke, said Hardy Thornton, a family friend.

Firefighters arrived about a minute after receiving an emergency call but met heavy flames on a staircase as they fought to reach the children, said Chief Michael Bell. They contained the fire quickly after pulling six of the children out of a front bedroom upstairs and a baby from a crib in another room, authorities said.

No adults were injured. Bell said no adults were in the building when firefighters arrived, but he wasn't sure whether adults were inside when the blaze broke out.

Jaramillo said the father of one of the children had tried to go upstairs with a fire extinguisher, ``but it didn't work.'' He and the father tried to go up the stairs a second time, but the smoke and flames were too thick.

``Then it was just quiet,'' said Jaramillo.

Neighbors said the woman who lived in the apartment with her children also had two sisters who live in the apartment complex.

Three of the children were students at Reynolds Elementary School, said school district spokeswoman Jane Bruss.

Nearly all the fire damage was limited to one apartment and the roof of the two-story brick apartment building with five units, said Battalion Chief Mark Klein.