Video: Deadliest New Orleans fire in 40 years

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    >>> and in new orleans , another blow to a city that's suffered so much in recent years. early this morning in an abandoned warehouse the deadliest fire in that city in almost 40 years. eight people killed. we have the story.

    >> reporter: in the sunlight the charred remnants of the fire are dark reminders of lives lost. friends of the eight victims broke down when they saw what was left.

    >> it hadn't hit me yet. i'm just -- i feel sorry for them.

    >> reporter: it was unusually cold for new orleans . overnight temperatures dropped to near freezing. firefighters say ten people sought shelter in the empty warehouse and started a fire to stay warm.

    >> they were using a trash can full of wood and de brito keep warm.

    >> reporter: fire chief says the fire got out of control and the carbon monoxide likely overpowering everyone inside. two people managed to escape.

    >> it was extremely large fire. it was fully engulfed when they first arrived on the scene. flames were leaping from the building.

    >> firefighters are unable to identify the victim's gender or ages but those who knew them say they were in the their teens and 20s and lives a transient lifestyle. new orleans has long been a popular destination for young wanderers.

    >> a totally different lifestyle. it's a different way of living without four walls and a roof.

    >> reporter: marlin parker grew up in this working-class neighborhood and the sight of squatters is nothing new but he says this scene is shocking.

    >> it's a terrible tragedy, yeah. it's just -- i don't know what to say. i'm kind of speechless right now.

    >> reporter: they came here seeking refuge . now, this place is a

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/28/2010 8:04:24 AM ET 2010-12-28T13:04:24

A blaze in a small, abandoned warehouse in New Orleans killed eight homeless people who were burning wood in a barrel to stay warm, the fire department said Tuesday.

New Orleans NBC station WDSU-TV said that victims were believed to be homeless people who had taken shelter in the warehouse due to bitterly cold weather.

A freeze warning was in effect for the region and homeless shelters struggled to accommodate additional demand for space, according to WDSU.

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The building was fully ablaze when the first fire truck arrived, said New Orleans Fire Department spokesman Greg Davis. Firefighters could not tell the ages or genders of the bodies pulled from the rubble. The fire also killed two dogs.

Fire Chief Charles Parent told WWL-TV that survivors said the fire started when people burned wood in a barrel to stay warm. He said they got out through a window. The survivors were a man who escaped during the fire and a woman who had left the building before it was engulfed, Red Cross worker Tom Butler said. He said both were put up at a hotel.

Parent said that firefighters were unable to tell the age or gender of the bodies. He added that cadaver dogs would be brought in at daylight in case there were others in the building in New Orleans' 9th Ward.

The survivors told firefighters that at least some of the people inside were unconscious when the building went up in flames. Davis said they might have been knocked out by carbon monoxide.

"When you burn something in a closed area, you're going to build up carbon monoxide," he said.

Video: Southern states shudder in bitter cold

The male survivor told Butler that he heard someone screaming and trying to escape. The survivor said he tried to run back into the building, but there was too much smoke. Butler said the man didn't want to be identified.

The wood and corrugated metal building burned to its foundation. It was among several ramshackle metal, brick and wooden buildings along railroad tracks where graffiti-scrawled freight cars stood.

Many of the houses nearby appeared abandoned, but at least a few were occupied.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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