Four children and their grandmother died in a fast-moving fire that engulfed their New Jersey home early Thursday, fire officials said.
Three more siblings were able to make it out alive along with their mother, and were being treated for injuries suffered in the fire that consumed the white two-story farmhouse in South Plainfield.
Greg Davis' 7-year-old son Tyler was one of the children who never made it out. He recounted what the children's mother told him after the fire.
"She said she tried to get up the stairs, and he was in her bedroom," said Davis, still in shock Thursday afternoon. "I said, 'Where's Tyler?' She said she don't know."
Witnesses said firefighters were at the home within minutes, but the flames were so intense they couldn't fight through them to rescue the children.
Deputy Fire Chief Lawrence Del Negro said even armed with a large hose line, firefighters couldn't break through the heat.
"We did see one of the firemen put a ladder up in the back, trying to get access to the second floor where bedrooms are," said neighbor Bob Rossow. "As soon as he broke the glass window, flames just shot out and he had to back down the ladder."
Neighbor Isabel Scavino said a teenage boy who escaped was in hysterics, knowing that his siblings and grandmother were inside.
"He was trying to go back in the house and he was held by one of the policemen," she said. "He grabbed him and tried to calm him down, held him down on the floor."
One of the teen's younger brothers who escaped also got out, but with second-degree burns. He is in critical condition at St. Barnabas Medical Center. The extent of the injuries of the other victims wasn't immediately known.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with them," South Plainfield Mayor Matthew Anesh said at an afternoon briefing.
Two volunteer firefighters suffered minor injuries in a two-vehicle crash while en route to the fire, but were expected to be OK.
It wasn't immediately clear what started the fire, which broke out at about 3 a.m. at the Clinton Avenue residence. A total of nine people lived in the home, fire officials said.
Firefighters doused the flames by 6 a.m., leaving behind charred window frames and significant structural damage to the building, which dates to the 1860s.
A neighbor returned to the scene Thursday night to leave a candle and some flowers in remembrance of the young siblings killed in the fire.
"That's what my heart led me to do, to come out and light a candle and put out some flowers," said Ruth Livingston. "I feel very bad."
South Plainfield officials said the fire was the deadliest in the town's history.