World

West Virginia fire kills 8, including 6 kids

Eight people, including a woman celebrating her 26th birthday and six young children who stayed over for a family slumber party, died in Charleston, W. Va., when fire tore through a two-storey home while they slept.

Charleston mayor says wood-frame house had only 1 working smoke detector

Firefighters look over the scene in Charleston. (Jerry Waters/Associated Press)

Eight people, including a woman celebrating her 26th birthday and six young children who stayed over for a family slumber party, died Saturday in Charleston, W. Va., when fire tore through a two-storey home while they slept, officials and witnesses said.

A seventh child was on life support after the blaze, the deadliest in West Virginia's capital city in more than 60 years, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said. The dead children ranged in age from 18 months to eight years.

The cause was under investigation, although arson wasn't suspected, Jones said. The fire started about 3:30 a.m. on the first floor. Jones said the home had just one working smoke detector; the city required several. A building inspection that had been scheduled for last month didn't happen because only children were home at the time.

A children's picnic table, chairs and an umbrella were overturned in the yard of the home, sitting on a corner in a neighbourhood tightly packed with small houses. The outside of the front of the home was blackened by the flames and smoke. Two upstairs windows were shattered and blackened, and what appeared to be an opening for an upstairs air conditioner was stuffed shut with clothes.

Alisha Carter-Camp, who would have been 26 Saturday, was among those killed, Jones said. She had been working as a hotel clerk for six months and told neighbours she planned to get married in June and move to Pittsburgh.

Four of the victims were three years old: Jeremiah Camp, Elijah Scott and two children who were only identified by their first name.

Keahna Camp, 8, Emanuel Jones, 18 months, and an adult, Alex Seal, were also killed.

Bryan Timothy Camp, 7, was hospitalized in critical condition.

All the victims related, authorities say

One adult survivor, Latasha Jones Isabell, went to the hospital but it wasn't clear if she was treated. Authorities said all the victims were related, but they weren't sure how and didn't know how many lived full-time in the home.

Carter-Camp and her two children were staying with her sister at the home, said Roxie Means, who lives down the street.

The party started Friday afternoon with a cookout and toasts of wine.

"They were nice people drinking a glass of wine," Rpxie Means said. "They weren't drunk. They weren't overdoing anything."

Roxie's daughter, 14-year-old Cassie Means, said she noticed lit candles inside the home when she attended the party Friday night.

Roxie Means said Isabell, 24, was smoking a cigarette outside, noticed the fire and came running to Means's home in the middle of the night and started "beating down the door."

The home was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. When they went inside, they immediately came across five victims and "started realizing there were a lot of people in this house, a lot of children."

Jones said he was devastated by the news of the fire — the deadliest in the state capital since since seven firefighters perished in while battling a fire at a Woolworth department store in 1949.

"I was with my children and I just grabbed them and hugged them, because I have a five-year-old and a four-year-old," he said. "I walked up there and caught a glimpse of some fatalities and it's something that's hard to grasp. The fact that there are [six] dead children — it's unimaginable."

Rusty Eaton, general manager a local Holiday Inn Express, said Carter-Camp was one of his employees.

Eaton said he was notified of her death by her mother Saturday morning.

He said Carter-Camp had worked at the hotel's front desk for about six months and also helped audit financial paperwork at night.

A city building inspector had made arrangements with the owner of  the house, Deloris Shamblen, to inspect the home on Feb. 28.

Carter-Camp had signed a permission slip to inspect the property, but when the inspector arrived, a child answered the door and asked the inspector to come back when an adult was there, Jones said.

"Had we seen the fact that they did not have the proper number of smoke detectors, we might have saved a lot of lives," Jones said.

A telephone message left with Shamblen wasn't immediately returned Saturday.