A kitchen fire filled a home daycare center with smoke on Thursday, killing three children and injuring four others. Firefighters ran with babies and small children in their arms to nearby ambulances on the crowded street.
The blaze broke out at Jackie's Child Care, which was being run out of a house in western Houston, Assistant Fire Chief Bill Barry said. The children ranged in age from 18 months to 3 years old.
Firefighters arriving at the scene found two children who had been injured outside the home and five more trapped inside. They rescued those inside and took all seven to Houston hospitals.
Three died after being taken to a hospital, Barry said.
The four injured "are apparently still clinging to life ... I don't think they're out of the darkness yet," said Lt. Rick Flanagan, Houston Fire Department's executive assistant chief.
At least two children were hospitalized in critical condition and one was in good condition, hospital officials said Thursday night. The condition of the fourth child was unclear.
Flanagan said all the children in the house were exposed to smoke.
Neighbor Michael McAndrews said he saw "smoke billowing out of the house and firemen up on the roof, trying to make a hole." Around front, firefighters were carrying children out of the smoke-filled house, then performing CPR in the yard.
McAndrews, 50, told the Houston Chronicle that center operator Jessica Tata was outside the center yelling frantically, "My kids, my kids, pray for them."
McAndrews said Tata told him that she had gone to the bathroom and returned to find the kitchen on fire.
Authorities were investigating the cause of the blaze.
The residence was licensed last March 1 as a registered child-care home, according to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services records. That means as many as 12 children could be cared for during a 24-hour period, although they couldn't live at the home.
Before the home opened, it was cited for not having a fire extinguisher or carbon monoxide detector, but the deficiency was corrected last Feb. 24, the records show. Gwen Carter, a Houston spokeswoman for the agency, said staff members physically saw the fire extinguisher before the license was granted.
No problems have been reported at the home since it was licensed, Carter said. Once licenses are granted, child care facilities are inspected every two years unless there's a complaint or particular concern, she said.
Carter said two department staff members were sent to the house when the fire broke out and that an investigation will be launched.
Another neighbor, Sandy Sawyer, said she saw firefighters rushing children to ambulances.
"I saw them running down the street holding babies, running, because there wasn't enough room for the emergency vehicles to get through," she told the Chronicle.
This article includes reporting from The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff.