NEW YORK — Fire marshals sifted through charred wreckage and worked through the night to try to determine what sparked a fast-moving house fire that killed five people, including two boys and two teenage girls, but don't believe the blaze spread from a car found burned out in the driveway, officials said Monday.
The Sunday afternoon blaze rapidly engulfed the wooden single-family home in Queens Village, a middle-class neighbourhood near Belmont Park, which hosts the Belmont Stakes, the final leg in horse racing's Triple Crown.
A passing motorist called 911 to say someone had jumped from a window, and by the time firefighters arrived moments later, flames were chewing through the roof and roaring in upstairs windows. No working smoke detectors were found.
"The firefighters on the scene did all that they could and more to try to save these children," Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. Firefighters raced into the burning building, making it up to the attic where some of the victims were trapped, but couldn't reach them in time.
"It's a very, very sad day for the people of our city when five young lives are taken from us in the course of a quiet Sunday afternoon," he said.
Most of the victims were related and one was a friend, authorities said. Police identified them as 2-year-old Chayce Lipford, 10-year-old Rashawn Matthews, 16-year-old Jada Foxworth, 17-year-old Melody Edwards and 20-year-old Destiny Dones.
The fire department gave conflicting IDs for some of the victims, saying Rashawn was 9, Jada was 17 and Destiny was 21 with the last name of Vicars instead of Dones.
The person who fell from the window was a man who hit a porch roof, then landed on the lawn, Nigro said. He was hospitalized and expected to survive.
A neighbouring home also caught fire and was badly damaged, but no one was inside at the time. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries; no other people were injured.
Neighbour Dorothy Murray told reporters that when she looked out her door and saw the fire, "I could have fainted."
"The fire was so intense — there's no way in the world nobody could go over there to save nobody," Murray said.
First-responders carried a limp child from the wreckage.
"It was the worst thing I've ever seen in my life," neighbour Foster McPhee told the New York Post. "The guy who was carrying the baby out, you could just see the stress on his face. I'm just emotional about it because I'm a grandfather and I have kids, too."
Firefighters tried to save the family even as the rescuers mourned one of their own, firefighter William Tolley, who died Thursday after falling five stories while battling a blaze in Queens.
The fire was the deadliest in the nation's biggest city since March 2015, when a house fire in Brooklyn killed seven children, all siblings. That fire was touched off by a hot plate.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and Deniz Cam contributed to this report.
Colleen Long, The Associated Press