(BATON ROUGE, La.) — A house fire killed two children and one woman and critically injured two other people early Friday in Louisiana’s capital, one of several deadly blazes that have erupted amid a blast of frigid weather.
A neighbor said he heard children screaming for help from the burning home in Baton Rouge and watched in horror as a young woman ran from the house with her clothes on fire. Firefighters found three bodies inside the house after the flames were extinguished.
A 19-year-old woman and a 5-year-old boy were taken to a hospital and were in “very critical” condition after the pre-dawn fire, Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesman Curt Monte told The Associated Press.
Officials didn’t immediately determine the cause of the fire but were investigating whether heating equipment may have ignited it.
“It certainly could be weather-related. They have no reason to suspect foul play at this point in time,” Monte said.
Reginald Howard, 54, who lives across the street from the charred home, said his dogs’ barking awoke him before dawn. When he looked outside, he saw the young woman running out the front door in her burning clothes and collapsing onto a neighbor’s porch. Neighbors put out the fire on her, he said.
Howard approached the home and heard children screaming inside, he recalled. Howard, another neighbor and a police officer pried open a metal door at the rear of the home, but the smoke and flames were too intense for them to enter.
“To hear those kids hollering, and you can’t get to them – that really hurts,” he said.
Officials initially told news outlets that four people had died inside the home, but later reduced the number to three.
Elaine Williams, a grandmother of three children who lived in the home, bent over and sobbed as she watched investigators from behind police tape. She believed two of her grandchildren died inside the house and the third was flown to a hospital.
“They were good kids,” she said. “They brought home good grades. They came from two good parents.”
Louisiana is in the midst of a recent surge in fire-related deaths — some of which are likely due to the recent spate of cold weather. The state fire marshal’s office said in a statement Thursday that investigators believe four recent deaths may have been caused by the use of space heaters.
In East Baton Rouge Parish alone, nine people have now died in four separate fires since Tuesday, according to Monte.
“It’s the most any of us have ever seen this close together,” Monte said.