At least 7 die in fire


HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) – Fire ravaged an apartment building, killing at least seven people, including a child, and authorities said Sunday that they feared the death count could grow.

The fire broke out in the 64-unit, five-story building late Saturday. Firefighters discovered two bodies and a child on the building’s top floor while fighting the blaze, and crews found four more bodies Sunday morning on that floor, Fire Chief Greg Fuller said. The child died on the way to a hospital.

“We have not been able to complete the search,” Fuller said. He said some of the fifth floor was blocked because the building’s roof and part of the floor collapsed.

Fuller said the building housed both city residents and Marshall University students.

Fourteen people were rescued, Fuller said, and four were listed in serious or critical condition Sunday afternoon. One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation and released.

Firefighters had called off their search for trapped residents during the night out of fear the structure could collapse, city Fire Marshal David Bias said.

“It’s a very sad day,” Bias said. “It’s very troubling when you have a building of this size and you work as hard as they have and you just come up a little short.”

Fuller called it the worst fire in nearly 50 years in the Ohio River city.

The fire was reported around 11 p.m. Saturday. Fire departments from nearby Ohio and Kentucky also responded.

Bias said it could take days to determine the cause of the blaze that began in a second-floor unit. From that apartment, flames and smoke shot up utility access channels to the upper floors, Fuller said.

The building, built in 1924, is owned by Woodlark Enterprises Inc. of White Plains, N.Y., Fuller said. A message left at the company was not immediately returned.

Fuller said there were some smoke alarms in the building, but he was unsure how many were working at the time of the fire. Fuller was not aware of any fire code violations at the building.

Resident Dreama Tackit said her family made it out safely.

“All I heard was people screaming, “Get my baby out of here!”‘ Tackit said. “And then it was like “Run! Run! Run!”‘

Patricia Betts said she arrived home to find smoke filling her apartment.

“My brother was in my apartment watching our kids and smoke started coming from the closet. They were outside in the hallway sitting on the steps when I got home,” she said. “We opened the door and smoke was everywhere. Then my whole apartment just blew up.”

Officials did not immediately release the victims’ identities. Fuller said several of the bodies were sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Charleston for identification.

The building is on one of Huntington’s largest thoroughfares. Officials said it would be several days before the street would be reopened for traffic.

AP-ES-01-14-07 1616EST