A father and his two young sons died in a pre-dawn fire Sunday in rural Lexington County, relatives said.
The father, 39, died trying to save the lives of two of his sons, ages 3 and 4, relatives said. His body was found, together with his sons’, near the center of the house, relatives said.
Six people, four of them children, were taken to Lexington Medical Center. They were treated and released.
Relatives said they had been asked by Lexington County law enforcement and fire officials not to publicly identify the dead.
The 70-plus-year-old one-story cinderblock and wood house, though modest and in a rural section, had been home over the years to five generations of the same extended family.
“My grandmother built this house practically with her own hands,” said Ethel Houston, 44, who lives in a mobile home behind the burnt structure. “We just called it ‘Grandma’s house.’”
Houston called 911 when her niece — who lived in the house — woke her up shortly before 6 a.m., pounding on the door and crying that the house was afire. It took the fire department less than 10 minutes to arrive, she estimated.
By then, the house was enveloped in flames and thick black smoke, she said. “Even if they’d been faster, it was already out of control.”
County officials indicated that the identities of the dead may be officially announced today after autopsies.
The Red Cross is helping the now-homeless surviving members of the family. Children’s clothes and shoes are among items needed, a relative said.
The house was heated by a kerosene heater and electric space heaters, but fire authorities have so far not announced a cause of the fire.
Seven people survived the fire. They included a 1-year-old girl, who was rushed outside by her mother in the first few minutes of the fire, and three other children, relatives said.
At the scene of the fire, in the 6000 block of Edmund Highway, some 17 miles southwest of downtown Columbia, little remained of the house but a gutted cinderblock structure, charred wood, piles of burned clothing and ashes.
Patrick Kirby, 24, a cousin of people inside the house, said that the 39-year-old man who died woke up people in the house on discovering the fire. “He went back in to get the two boys and never came back out,” said Kirby.
A woman who identified herself as the mother of the two dead boys said her fiancé (the 39-year-old man and the dead boys’ father) woke her up. “I opened my eyes. He was telling me to get up. I grabbed the baby and ran outside,” said the woman, who did not want her name used.
Then, she said, she put the baby in the front seat of a pickup truck and broke a window in a part of the house where her mother and another woman, a friend, were sleeping. Alerted, the two older women went out another door.
Kirby said the family is praying for guidance. “We are taking it one day at a time,” he said. “We are Christian people.”