Relatives have identified five of the seven people killed in a massive fire that broke out in the predawn hours in a Lowell, Mass., apartment building.
Family members believe that Torn Sak, his longtime partner, Ellen Vuong, and three of their children - a 7-year-old girl, a 9-year-old boy and a 12-year-old boy - were among the seven people who died in the blaze, which ripped through the three-story structure just before 4 a.m. Thursday, Vuong's brother, William Vuong, told the Los Angeles Times.
Vuong said his family was grief-stricken, and declined to comment further.
Two of the couple's sons escaped, said Sak's brother, 20-year-old Thearan Sak. He told the Associated Press that his brother enjoyed fireworks and had stored some in the family's apartment. Authorities acknowledged that they had heard witness reports of explosions similar to fireworks going off in the building before or during the fire, but added that they would not speculate on the cause of the blaze.
Authorities have not identified the seven victims, saying only that four adults and three children died. Witnesses told the Associated Press how tenants jumped out of windows to escape the inferno and how one woman passed a baby out of a window to rescuers below.
Mayor Rodney Elliott called the fire horrific at a news conference. “Today is a tragic day in the city of Lowell,” he said.
State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said the building did not have a sprinkler system, but was not required to because of its age. “Whether it would have made a difference or not is speculation that we should not enter into at this time,” Coan said. “But clearly, sprinklers are a life-saving tool.”
Coan said there was a fire alarm system installed in the nine-unit building, but that none of the firefighters or witnesses at the scene reported hearing smoke alarms going off when they arrived. Fire officials will examine whether the system was working.
Aerial footage taken by local TV stations showed the entire roof of the building burned through and external walls charred.
Authorities said the fast-moving blaze was discovered by a Lowell police officer, who heard screams for help coming from the building. Other residents and neighbors ran down the street to the nearest fire station, about 100 yards away, and alerted firefighters, Coan said.
By the time rescuers arrived, the building was engulfed in flames. It took more than 40 firefighters a couple of hours to get the blaze under control, said Deputy Chief Jeff Winward of the Lowell Fire Department.
At one point, Coan said, firefighters were forced to evacuate the building, as parts of the roof began to collapse around them. A fire captain injured his leg when a piece of slate fell on him, Coan said, but the injury was minor.
Nine other people were taken to a hospital, said Middlesex County Dist. Atty. Marian Ryan, and treated for what's believed to be “non-life-threatening injuries.”
At a late afternoon news conference, Ryan said she was confident that all residents had been accounted for. Firefighters will go through the building with a cadaver dog to ensure there are no other victims before beginning their investigation into why and where the fire started.
“Expect this to be a long and thorough process,” Ryan said.
For more breaking news, follow @cmaiduc.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
4:39 p.m.: This post was updated to reflect information from relatives about the identities of five of the victims, as well as updated information from authorities on the investigation.
10:01 a.m.: This post was updated to add comments from city and state officials and to add new information about the ongoing investigation.