HOUSTON -- A kitchen fire filled a home daycare center with smoke Thursday, killing three children and injuring four others. Firefighters ran with babies and small children in their arms to nearby ambulances on the crowded street, a fire official said.
All seven children in Jackie's Child Care were taken to hospitals, said Lt. Rick Flanagan, Houston Fire Department's executive assistant chief. The children ranged in age from 18 months to 3 years old, officials said.
The four injured "are apparently still clinging to life ... I don't think they're out of the darkness yet," Flanagan said. He said no other information was immediately available on the names and ages of those who died or the conditions of those injured.
"We're still moving forward trying to connect parents back to kids and get confirmation status," he said.
Firefighters who arrived at the one-story home found it engulfed in smoke, with two injured children outside and five others trapped inside. The firefighters had to use thermal imaging cameras to locate some of the children, Flanagan said, and quickly started pulling them out one by one.
But because the neighborhood was accessible by only one street, firefighters at one point were running with babies and small children in their arms to the nearest ambulances on the crowded streets. They were performing CPR on the children as they were being taken to the hospital.
The daycare center was licensed to Jessica Tata, 22. She did not respond to a message left by The Associated Press.
Neighbor Michael McAndrews, 50, told the Houston Chronicle that Tata told him she had gone to the bathroom and returned to find the kitchen on fire.
She was outside the center during the fire yelling frantically, "My kids, my kids, pray for them," McAndrews said.
Another neighbor, Sandy Sawyer, told the paper that when Tata was outside she thought there were still two children in the residence.
"She thought two of them crawled out of their cribs and didn't know where they were," Sawyer said.
Authorities were investigating the cause of the blaze.
The residence was licensed last March 1 as a registered child-care home, according to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services records. That means as many as 12 children could be cared for during a 24-hour period, although they couldn't live at the home.
Before the home opened, it was cited for not having a fire extinguisher or carbon monoxide detector, but the deficiency was corrected last Feb. 24, the records show. Gwen Carter, a Houston spokeswoman for the agency, said staff members physically saw the fire extinguisher before the license was granted.
No problems have been reported at the home since it was licensed, Carter said. Once licenses are granted, child care facilities are inspected every two years unless there's a complaint or particular concern, she said.
Carter said two department staff members were sent to the house when the fire broke out and the agency will investigate.