PIKEVILLE, KY - An early morning blaze at a home in rural eastern Kentucky killed four children and their father on Wednesday and investigators were still waiting for the wreckage to cool before entering the scene.
The fire at the small home in southern Pike County began around 2:30 a.m., Trooper Tony Watts said. The child's mother was taken to the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington with injuries.
A relative who lives nearby said she woke up early Wednesday morning to find the house fully engulfed by flames.
"There was nothing I could do, I got second-degree burns just getting close to it," said Glema Blair, the children's great aunt.
Blair, who lives behind the home, ran to the home and saw the children's mother, Tammie Tucker, and Tucker's father attempting to get inside to find the children. Tammie Tucker was taken to UK Medical Center with severe burns, Blair said.
"She was trying her best," said Blair, who was fighting back tears in an interview with The Associated Press.
Hospital spokeswoman Julie Phillips said Tucker was in critical condition Wednesday afternoon.
Another neighbor, Evelyn Mullins, said the deadly fire shocked the small community of Jonancy, which is nestled in Kentucky's eastern coalfields.
"It's just such a tragedy," Mullins said.
Blair said Tucker lived in the home with the children's father, Billy Wilfong. The two weren't married but had been together for about seven years, she said.
Blair identified the children as 5-year-old Dakota Lee; 4-year-old Tyler Lane; 2-year-old Cheyenne and an infant, Emily, who was six months old. She said she watched the kids often and said they loved to play outside and watch TV together.
"They were good kids, you couldn't ask for no better," Blair said.
Doug Tackett, Pike County Emergency Services Coordinator, said hot spots still marked the house as of early Wednesday afternoon.
"They haven't even started the recovery yet," Tackett said. "It was a hot one, yes indeed."
No officials could recall a similar deadly blaze in Kentucky since 10 people, including six children, were killed in a house fire in Bardstown in February 2007.
"It's probably been the worst we've had in this area in a long, long time," Watts said.
County Judge-Executive spokesman Brandon Roberts said there's been no similar fatal fire in the county in recent years.
"I can't remember a whole family perishing in a fire in my lifetime," Roberts said. "It's just, `Oh God."'