(SOUTH BEND, Ind.) — Five children, including a 17-month-old, were killed in a wind-whipped house fire in South Bend, Indiana, in what officials are calling a “horrific tragedy.”
Seven individuals — one adult and six children — were in the home at the time of the fire. Officials said they rescued the six children from the residence; five were later pronounced dead. The ages of the victims range from 17 months to 11 years old, according to officials.
Crews responded Sunday to a residential fire at 222 North LaPorte Ave. at approximately 6:15 p.m. local time and continued to fight the blaze for three hours. When they arrived, a two-story structure was engulfed in flames. South Bend firefighters said they found several children trapped on the second floor of the building.
The surviving victim, 11, was rushed to a local hospital and later airlifted to a specialized pediatric burn center in Indianapolis for further treatment. The 11-year-old remains in treatment Monday, officials said.
One adult was in the house at the time of the fire but was able to escape and sustained minor injuries, fire officials told ABC News.
“Obviously our hearts are low and feeling very saddened right now,” South Bend Fire Chief Carl Buchanon told reports in a press conference Monday. “The one thing on the fire service that I can attest to is that we know how hard it is to lose anyone because we do everything in our power to avoid it. But it hurts even more so when its someone who has just begun their time of this earth — not able to make conscientious decisions, which is where the adults, we’re supposed to help them with.”
Amid the rescue efforts, one firefighter was injured after falling through the second floor and was transported to the hospital for treatment, according to officials. The firefighter is now at home and expected to make a full recovery, officials said.
Crews battled the fire for approximately three hours Sunday evening, officials told reporters during a press conference Monday. The cause of the fire and where in the home the fire began is still unknown. Officials said the fire spread quickly through the residence due to winds and harsh weather conditions in the area at the time.
“While this incident casts a shadow of sorrow over our community, particularly due to the loss of young lives, it is also a poignant reminder of the courage and dedication displayed by the members of the South Bend Fire Department,” the department said in a statement.
“The firefighters of Engine 2, in their unyielding commitment to protect and serve, exhibited a profound disregard for their own safety in the face of extreme danger. Their actions reflect the highest ideals of selflessness and a citizens-first ethos, characteristics emblematic of the bravery inherent in our city’s first responders,” the statement continued.
During the South Bend Fire Department’s press conference Monday, South Bend Fire Chief Carl R. Buchanon, Mayor James Mueller and State Fire Marshal Gerard Ellis addressed the tragedy and honored the responding crews for their rescue efforts.
“This incident last night was a horrific tragedy in our community. We know this is rippling across the community today and will for some time. Our heartfelt prayers and condolences are with the family and the rest of our community that are going through this mourning process,” Mueller said.
Buchanon said the adult who escaped told responding crews how many individuals were trapped inside and made attempts to rescue them.
Buchanon added that this incident was the most fatal house fire during his tenure in South Bend.
The South Bend Fire Department said it is working with state and local authorities to investigate the cause of the fire.
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