Chris Anderson, Appalachian News-Express
Firefighters from the Shelby Valley Volunteer Fire Department work Wednesday to extinguish a blaze at a home in Jonancy, Ky., which officials say killed four children and one adult and injured another adult. The blaze remains under investigation by Kentucky State Police.
JONANCY, Ky. -- An early morning blaze at a home in rural eastern Kentucky 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 fire at the small home in southern Pike County began around 2:30 a.m., state police Trooper Tony Watts said. The child's mother was taken to the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington with injuries.
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.
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.
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.
Near the charred remnants of the home was playground equipment, a swing set and a tricycle.
Just after the fire started, Blair, who lives behind the home, ran to the fire and saw the children's mother, Tammie Tucker, and Tucker's father, James Tucker, attempting to get inside. 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.
James Tucker said he was awakened by his daughter beating on the window of his home, screaming "Help, Daddy, help!"
"When I opened up the curtain and looked out the window, the whole house was up in flames," James Tucker said. His daughter yelled through the window, "I need help getting the babies out of the house."
Tucker rushed to the house but "there wasn't no way I could get into it."
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.
Roberts 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," 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."
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.
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.'"