Posted: September 16, 2013 - 4:30am
TIFFIN, Ohio (AP) — A fast-moving fire claimed the lives of a man and five children ages 6 and under on Sunday morning when it swept through a mobile home in northwest Ohio.
The fire was reported shortly before 8 a.m. Sunday in a mobile home park in Tiffin, about 50 miles southeast of Toledo. Firefighters got all six people out in about 12 minutes, but all were pronounced dead at a hospital, Tiffin Fire Chief William Ennis said.
Owanna Ortiz said her first cousin, Anna Angel, was the children's mother and lived in the home with them and the man who died. She said her cousin had four daughters of her own as well as a son with the man.
"She had a whole family and now she has nothing," Ortiz said.
The family didn't have a car and had to get around on bicycles, Ortiz said.
"If she had to get somewhere, they had two strollers they had to take, but they made it work," Ortiz said.
A stroller, a little pink bicycle and an adult bicycle with a bike trailer could be seen outside the home with its charred and broken windows.
The two oldest children were in kindergarten and first grade, Ortiz said.
"They were always happy and full of sunshine," she said. "The older ones looked out for the younger ones."
Ortiz said her cousin was working at a fast-food restaurant at the time of the fire. The Toledo Blade reported Angel visited the hospital where her children were taken but it was not immediately clear where she was staying.
Authorities would not confirm the identities or relationships of those killed or comment on a possible cause. A state fire marshal's investigator said there were no indications of anything suspicious and it could take up to two days before authorities know how the six died.
"We won't release any more information until we know the cause of death," state investigator Tim Spradlin said. A message was left Sunday for Seneca County's coroner.
Nancy Williams, who manages the Highland Park Estates mobile home park and lives there, said she yelled to her son to call 911 and ran to the home when a neighbor alerted her to the blaze.
"I knew there were babies in there," she said. "But once we got there, there was nothing we could do. It was fully engulfed in flames and we couldn't get in."
Ennis said there was heavy fire in the center of the mobile home and heavy smoke throughout the structure when firefighters arrived. Witnesses said the fire burned quickly, breaking out windows and peeling some of the trailer's aluminum siding.
Williams' voice broke as she described seeing rescuers bringing the children from the home.
"It's so heartbreaking," she said.
Another neighbor, Rick Hummell, 49, said he also went to the home to see if he could help.
"I watched the babies get dragged out," Hummell said. "It just made me sick."
Hummell said he often saw the children outside and would give them money for ice cream. The woman would often load up the trailer with the children and ride through the mobile home park, he said.
"She was always good to her kids," Hummell said.
Cheryl L. Opp, who lives nearby, said it was a serene Sunday morning she went to walk the dogs about a half hour before she heard them barking and looked out window to see the mobile home on fire.
She said the kids always seemed to be happy and she saw them outside often.
"This takes my heart away," Opp said.
Louis Keller, lived across the road from the home that burned. "They would come over and play with my dogs," he said, as a strong smell of smoke blew across his yard.
Harry Miller, chief of the Bascom Joint Fire District outside Tiffin, said about 30 members of his volunteer department assisted Tiffin firefighters.
Miller noted that fires involving children are among the most difficult for firefighters to handle, especially for those new to the job.
"We had some new EMTs on the scene as well, and it's very tough on everyone when it involves kids," Miller said. "It hits home because we all have kids."