Image: Burned home
Jeff Gentner  /  AP
Kyle Whitmer, 20, searches the remains of his home after a fire killed five residents in Pedro, Ohio. Owned by his mother, the building was once a foster home and had been converted into a home for members of his extended family and friends who had fallen on hard times.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/4/2010 6:52:00 PM ET 2010-10-04T22:52:00

A fire that killed five people and injured seven others at a 12-bedroom house in rural southern Ohio has been ruled accidental.

The fire early Monday started at or near a portable electrical heater in a breezeway at the center of the home in Elizabeth Township, near where Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia meet, state fire marshal's spokesman Shane Cartmill said.

Four women and an 8-month-old boy were killed.

Kyle Whitmer escaped, 20, escaped the fire and said he and six others were treated for burns and smoke inhalation. He said everyone is expected to be OK.

Whitmer said the house was owned by his mother and she is among the survivors. He said his 21-year-old sister is among the dead. He said the three lived in the home with friends.

A neighbor told Huntington, W.Va., station WSAZ-TV that two people who lived in the home came to her house to call 911, including a young man who said he escaped by jumping from a second-floor window.

"I went down there to see if there was anything I could do, and black smoke was rolling out of it and you see some fire," said Regina Besco, 47, a neighbor to the multiple-family dwelling, according to The Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

One of the young men who knocked on her door looking for help said his wife and baby were trapped inside, and the other said several of his family members were still in the house, the Dispatch reported.

"It was horrid. There was nothing those boys could do but sit there and watch it burn. One of the boys was crying. It tore you up," Besco said according to the Dispatch.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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