WASHINGTON – A fire ripped through a Washington home Thursday morning, killing a 5-year-old girl, her parents and two others, fire officials said.
A critically injured 11-year-old boy was among four others hurt at the house, where Christmas lights hung from the front porch and crews removed charred debris in the afternoon, including a pink scooter and a toy truck.
An electrical failure between the basement and the first floor of the two-story home in the northeast part of the city is believed to have sparked the blaze, which broke out around 7 a.m., officials said.
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Fire officials believe the house was built in the 1940s or 1950s, and the style of its construction was meant to allow heat to pass easily from room to room, Fire Chief Dennis Rubin said. The design also allowed the fire to travel rapidly through the structure, he said.
"This type (of) home would not be allowed by code today," Rubin said. Officials hadn't determined whether smoke detectors were working.
The dead were identified as Keith Nelson, 23; Tawanna Gant, 22; their 5-year-old daughter, Kaniya Gant; Joseph Wilson, 10; and Charles Smith, 72. Authorities were not sure of the relationship between the boy, the older man and the other victims.
"I don't think it actually hit everybody yet," said Dionne West, a cousin of Tawanna Gant. "Everybody's coping. We're going to stick together."
Gant "was a vibrant young lady. She really enjoyed life," West said. She said the daughter was a "happy-go-lucky girl."
Neighbor Mary Meeks said she awoke to see flames shooting out the windows of the home's basement. She ran from her home across the street and started banging and kicking on the front door, and her daughter called 911.
"I didn't hear any movement," Meeks said. "That's why I was banging on the door, but I still didn't hear anybody."
District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty and two D.C. Council members visited the scene Thursday afternoon with several of the victims' family members.
"It's probably the worst way any of us could imagine starting a new year," Fenty said of the tragedy that came within two deaths of equaling the city's total for fire fatalities in 2008.
Along with the critically injured boy, a 44-year-old man, a 41-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.
About 120 firefighters put out the blaze.