JONANCY, Ky. — An early morning blaze at a rural eastern Kentucky home killed four children and their father on Wednesday and left the mother severely burned when she attempted to save her children from the flames.
The small home in southern Pike County caught fire around 2:30 a.m. according to Kentucky State Police Trooper Tony Watts.
Pike County Coroner Russell Roberts said the bodies of the five victims were found in the home’s living room, where they had been sleeping near an electric space heater. The child’s mother was taken to the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington with severe burns.
A relative who lived nearby said she woke up early Wednesday morning to find the house fully engulfed by flames.
“There was nothing I could do,” Glema Blair, the children’s great aunt who lives nearby, said. “I got second-degree burns just getting close to it.”
Just after the fire started, Blair ran to the home and saw the children’s mother, Tammie Tucker, and Tucker’s father, James Tucker, attempting to get inside.
“She was trying her best,” said Blair, who was fighting back tears in an interview with The Associated Press.
Hospital spokeswoman Julie Phillips said Tammie Tucker was in critical condition Wednesday afternoon.
The family had switched from heating with wood to an electric heater and it was the only heat source in the house, James Tucker 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 6 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.
The coroner said the bodies would be taken to the medical examiner’s office in Frankfort, and it could take several days for positive identifications. The infant was found within a foot of the father, and all the victims were within about two feet of each other.
“They could’ve been overcome by that smoke and just went into like a deep sleep,” Russell Roberts said. “They just couldn’t make it out.”
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.”
“It’s probably been the worst we’ve had in this area in a long, long time,” Watts said.
By Wednesday afternoon, a makeshift memorial had gone up at the site of the single story frame home on a narrow, serpentine road that leads up the hillside. Red flowers and four blue balloons decorated the memorial and included a collage with pictures of the father and the four children.
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,” Brandon Roberts said. “It’s just, ‘Oh God.’”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.