IMAGE: Pittsburgh home
Gene J. Puskar  /  AP
Pittsburgh firefighters take a break after fighting a fire early Tuesday that killed five children.
updated 6/12/2007 7:29:37 PM ET 2007-06-12T23:29:37

Fire raced through a three-story row house early Tuesday, killing five children, and authorities said they were looking for a teenage baby sitter who was supposed to be watching them.

Neighbor Sontaya Perry, 22, said she could hear the children inside the house screaming as the fire raged from the windows before dawn. She tried to get in, but the wooden steps leading to the door were in flames, she said.

“They were screaming, and five minutes later they stopped screaming,” Perry said.

Two children escaped without injury.

On the street outside, two boys were begging for someone to help for their brothers and sisters, Perry said. One told her he was sleeping when the fire began.

Flames were shooting from all three floors when firefighters arrived, officials said. The children, who ranged in age from 3 to 7, were found on the second floor, where the fire apparently started, authorities said.

One child was dead on arrival at West Penn Hospital, and two others died in the emergency room, said Stephanie Waite, a hospital spokeswoman. All five died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office said.

A teenage baby sitter was supposed to be watching the children, who were from two families but all related, while their parents were out for the night, authorities said.

The baby sitter had not been found as of late afternoon, and police knew only her nickname, Police Chief Nate Harper said. The nickname was not disclosed. Police were interviewing witnesses.

“We have a lot of people out there working hard. ... Hopefully we’ll have answers in a short period of time,” he said.

Inoperative smoke detector
One smoke detector was found on the home’s second floor, but it was not working, police said.

The victims were identified as Cedano Holyfield, 4; Daekia Holyfield, 7; Dezekiah Holyfield, 3; Andre Rankin, 6; and Azquel Rankin, 5. The Holyfield children lived in the home, authorities said. The Holyfield children lived in the home, and the Rankin children lived in another neighborhood.

The fire was reported around 1:20 a.m. and also spread to a vacant building next door. Investigators were at the gutted and blackened house Tuesday morning, examining and removing debris.

Fire Chief Michael Huss said that a police officer was on the scene within one minute and that firefighters were there within four minutes.

“Our firefighters, they’re hurting today because they didn’t have a chance to make that rescue,” Huss said.

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