DETROIT – Neighbors kicked down the front door and smashed out the windows of a burning home early Monday in an unsuccessful attempt to save a pregnant woman and her three young children from the flames.
The four died in the fast-moving fire, which apparently was sparked by an unattended barbecue grill, a fire official and neighbors said, while the children's father was severely burned.
Ron Andrews, 43, lives a few houses down the block and helped pull the father from the two-story home. Andrews said he tried to sleep after the overnight blaze, but images of the fire kept returning.
"As soon as I closed my eyes I kept seeing the father and I kept hearing the girls screaming," Andrews said.
As Andrews spoke, his lips quivered and he fought back tears as he coughed from the aftereffects of the smoke.
"We tried to get in there," Andrews said. "They were screaming, and we couldn't get in there."
Firefighters were called to the scene about 12:45 a.m. and found the home engulfed in flames, department spokeswoman Katrina Butler said. The fire was classified as accidental, she said, but there were no working smoke detectors in the house. She said the woman and children were found on the second floor.
"It was a result of an earlier barbecue grill on the rear porch," Butler said.
Andrews praised the response of firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel, saying firefighters tried to get into the home to reach the family before their hoses were hooked up. But he estimated it took about 15 minutes from the first 911 call before rescuers arrived.
Butler said she couldn't confirm what time firefighters arrived.
Neighbor Julie Cline said another neighbor kicked in a door at the family's home. She said neighbors tried to go back inside for other family members after pulling out the father, but the flames were too intense.
"It flew through that house," Cline said. "I can't believe how fast it went through that house."
Butler said the father was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition with burns over about 80 percent of his body.
Names of the victims weren't released, but Butler said the children were a 3-year-old boy and two girls, ages 5 and 7. She said the parents were in their mid-20s to early-30s, but their exact ages weren't available.
Cline said the family had lived in the house for about four years. The woman was about eight months pregnant, she said.
"They were a good family," Cline said.
After the fire was out, someone placed a stuffed animal on the front-porch steps.
Both stories of the home were charred, and the windows were broken out, making it possible to see into the backyard from the front of the home. Soot lay on the sidewalks, lawns and vehicles nearby, and homes on both sides were scorched.
One of those homes belongs to Cline, 48, who awoke at 1 a.m. to the sound of a neighbor banging on the side of her house, telling her that there was a fire. She got her two daughters, 16 and 14, out of the house, along with her dog.
She then hooked up a garden hose, which other neighbors used to try to douse the flames.
"They saved my daughters by waking me up with enough time to get out of this house," Cline said of the neighbors. "I really, truly believe it."