Five People Die In Florida House Fire

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) -- A pre-dawn fire burned a home where windows were covered with plywood storm shutters and burglar bars, turning the house into a ``convection oven'' and killing four children and an adult Thursday, officials said.

The children's mother was spared because she was staying with a relative, having given birth days earlier, the children's uncle said. The baby was safe at the hospital.

The fire did not reach the bedroom where the victims may have been sleeping, and they apparently died of smoke inhalation, Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Lt. Eugene Germain said.

Investigators were trying to determine what sparked the blaze, which began in the living room. The house became a ``convection oven'' when the boards and burglar bars trapped the fire's heat, gas and smoke, said Lt. Eric Baum, a fire-rescue spokesman.

The house did not have smoke alarms, and the victims may not have known there was a fire, Germain said. The shutters and bars didn't slow the entry of firefighters, who said they kicked in the front door.

Four of the victims died at the scene, and one died on the way to a hospital, he said. Their identities and relationships were not immediately known. A neighbor, Loretta Hanna, said the children were two girls and two boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16.

``I can't think. I've been crying all this morning,'' said Arthur Brown, the children's uncle. ``It hurts me because of those sweet little children.''

Mourners placed flowers in front of the entrance of the house, which was missing its door and was scorched around the door frame. They put a bouquet of pink, red and white flowers next to the pile of charred bed frames.

Red Cross representative Elda Sanchez said the charity will pay for the funeral for all five victims, plus find housing for the mother and newborn. The Red Cross is also working with Homestead Hospital to provide a crib, formula, diapers for the newborn baby and mother.

Homestead, 25 miles south of Miami, was devastated by Hurricane Andrew 12 years ago. Some homeowners, naturally anxious during hurricane season, have left up the shutters they put up weeks ago when the first of three hurricanes that hit Florida this year threatened the area.

Leaving up shutters ``poses a tremendous risk to the occupants to not have a reliable means to get out of the house,'' Baum said.

Neighbor Miriam Bonilla stared at the boards and burglar bars covering her own windows, 100 feet away from the scorched home. ``We're going to take them off, for the Lord's sake,'' she said.