(Reuters) - Eight people, including six children under the age of nine, died early Saturday when a fast-moving fire swept a two-story wood house in Charleston, West Virginia, in the worst house-fire death toll ever in the state’s capital city, officials said.
The dead included a woman who turned 26 on Saturday whose birthday was being celebrated Friday night at the house, Charleston Assistant Fire Chief Bob Sharp said.
Ten people were staying at the house when the fire was reported at 3:30 a.m. Saturday: two sisters in their 20s, a boyfriend of one of the sisters and seven children from 1 to 8 years old, officials said.
The seventh child, a boy, was in a hospital intensive care unit and “not doing great,” Sharp said, and the lone surviving adult, a woman who reported the fire, was “very traumatized” and taken to the hospital for treatment.
“This is the worst house fire in the history of Charleston and maybe in West Virginia,” Charleston Mayor Danny Jones told a news conference. “I don’t know of another house fire, anywhere, where eight people have died.”
Officials said the fire burned quickly and left many parts of the house intact, giving investigators confidence that they can determine what caused the fire. They believe they know where the fire started on the first floor of the rented house.
Authorities have no reason to suspect the fire was set, but have ruled nothing out in the investigation, Sharp said.
One working smoke detector was found in the house, on a kitchen counter, rather than on a ceiling where it would provide the best warning for residents in an emergency, Sharp said. Another smoke detector in a stairwell was not working, he said.
The deaths appeared to be from smoke inhalation — bodies were found still in sleeping positions in beds, by beds, on mattresses or couches, Sharp said.
The fire was under control within minutes after firefighters arrived and carried the children out of the house, where paramedics attempted to revive them, Sharp said.
A city building inspection was scheduled for late February at the house, which was rented, but the inspector was turned away and it was not completed, Sharp said. Inspectors can do 30 or 40 inspections a day and often must reschedule, he said.
Neighbors interviewed said the family had only lived in the house for a few months.
“I’d see the kids out riding tricycles,” said Evelyn Fazio, who lives on the same block. “It’s awful.” She said it’s a “quiet, good neighborhood.”
Reporting by Mary Wisniewski and David Bailey; editing by Dan Burns