Townhouse Fire Kills 11 Family Members

Eleven family members died in their suburban apartment after a mattress caught fire and got stuck in a door as they tried to drag it out, authorities said.

The fire was started by candles the family had been using because they moved in just hours earlier and did not yet have electricity, Sheriff Harry Lee (search) said. Four family members escaped. The dead ranged in age from 6 months to 42 years.

"The mattress got jammed in the door so the mattress actually blocked the only means of escape," Lee said.

Some of the victims apparently died of smoke inhalation, and others from burns, authorities said.

The building was engulfed in flames when rescue workers arrived shortly before 5 a.m. Part of the second-story wall appeared to have been blown out or knocked in, and was covered with soot. Neighbors reported hearing screams and cries for help.

David Jarriet (search) said he called 911 after going outside to get his newspaper. "I heard windows popping," he said. "I saw flames. They were rolling."

Survivor Ireone Wilson, 18, told The Times-Picayune she grabbed a 7-month-old son and, with an uncle, escaped along a back stairway. She said her boyfriend escaped by jumping from a back window.

All the bodies were found on the second floor, where the fire started.

Landlord Ernest Pierre choked up at the scene. He said he was unaware 15 people were in the apartment, believing he had rented the apartment to Sabrina Wilson, the family's grandmother, and a handful of family members.

Pierre said the former renter apparently had the electricity turned off so the account could be shifted from her name.

The apartment was in a strip of brick-and-siding buildings that share walls, townhouse-style, in a lower-middle-class neighborhood across the Mississippi River from New Orleans (search).

The family had been living in a rundown house in suburban Harvey, but moved in the middle of the night Wednesday, according to Bertha Norman, a friend of Wilson.

Norman said the family was ordered out of their old place when Wilson refused to pay rent in a dispute over repairs. The family moved all their belongings in two cars, waiting until night to avoid traffic, she said. The move took until 4 a.m., she said.