updated 10/25/2004 3:44:42 PM ET 2004-10-25T19:44:42

Joe Jaramillo climbed the staircase with smoke searing his eyes and the cries of seven trapped children ringing in his ears. But he couldn’t get any closer.

“They were yelling ‘Help us!’ but I couldn’t do anything. I had to come back for air,” he said.

The youngsters died after a fire broke out in a Toledo apartment Sunday afternoon. The victims were five sisters, their brother and a girl cousin, ages six months to 7 years, said an aunt, Natalie McGowan.

Toledo firefighters arrived at the scene about a minute after receiving an emergency call, but met heavy flames on a staircase as they fought to reach the victims, Chief Michael Bell said. They contained the fire quickly after pulling the children out, he said.

Jaramillo ran into the two-story building and tried to get upstairs where the children were trapped, as the mother of some of the children stood outside screaming that her babies were inside. Jaramillo, 36, said he had been visiting his daughter in the area.

No adults were injured, but five of the children died at area hospitals soon after the blaze, authorities said. A sixth child died several hours later and the seventh died early Monday morning, a spokeswoman for St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center said.

Bell said no adults were in the building when firefighters arrived. It was unclear if adults were inside when the blaze broke out. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Jaramillo said the father of one of the children had tried to go upstairs with a fire extinguisher, “but it didn’t work.” He and the father tried to go up the stairs a second time, but the smoke and flames were too thick.

“Then it was just quiet,” Jaramillo said.

Halloween decorations
Authorities withheld the names or relationships of the victims Sunday. Neighbors said the woman who lived there with her children also had two sisters who live in the apartment complex.

Relatives of the victims who gathered outside the hospital Sunday night declined to comment.

Nearly all the fire damage was limited to one apartment and the roof of the two-story brick apartment building, which contained five units, said Battalion Chief Mark Klein.

Outside the complex, Halloween decorations remained in the front yard and paper cutout bats were taped to the front window.

Clay Neal, 32, who lived in the apartment next to the victims’, said the children were always outside riding bikes and playing games. He arrived just as paramedics were taking a baby out of the building on a stretcher.

“It just brings tears to my eyes because all of the kids didn’t make it,” Neal said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments