TEXAS TOWNSHIP, Mich. – The quick thinking and heroic actions of some firefighters at a house fire early Saturday that killed four young children probably kept the death toll from being even higher, a fire official said.
The Kalamazoo County sheriff's office said in a written statement that a 3-year-old girl and three boys — ages 4, 5 and 6 — were pronounced dead following the fire, which was reported about 7:45 a.m. in Texas Township, just southwest of Kalamazoo. Autopsies were planned.
A 5-year-old boy and a 22-year-old woman were listed in critical condition at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, deputies said. Nine other people in the house were treated and released.
The victims' names weren't immediately released. The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Many people were still inside the burning, smoky home when first-response firefighters from Texas and Oshtemo townships arrived on the scene. Texas Township fire Chief Mike Corfman said the firefighters saved several lives while placing themselves at great risk by entering the structure with minimal protective gear and few water lines in place.
"The firefighters that were here, what they did today — we had some real heroes here," he said.
While firefighters were inside, a neighbor or resident of the house helped them by putting a ladder outside a bedroom window, through which firefighters passed the civilian a child, Corfman said. It wasn't known whether that child survived.
The front, center portion of the yellow, wood-frame home sustained the most visible fire damage from the street. The two-car garage on one side and a bedroom on the other appeared almost untouched.
"The fire damage itself is basically confined to the front room," Corfman said, although there was smoke and heat damage throughout the house.
He said he did not know where inside the four victims were found. He also did not know the relationships between the victims.
A baby stroller and an overturned wheelchair sat in the front yard later in the day as firefighters removed garbage cans filled with charred debris from the house.
Corfman said it was the first fatal fire in recent memory in Texas Township, which has about 13,000 residents and is about 50 miles south of Grand Rapids and 135 miles west of Detroit.
Next-door neighbor George Socia, who wasn't home at the time of the fire, said the young children periodically came over to talk with him and his wife, but he didn't know their parents very well.
"They kept to themselves and we kept to ourselves," Socia said while standing outside the front door of the home where he has lived for 49 years. He said his neighbors moved in a few years ago.