MILWAUKEE — A fire early today swept through a two-story house where 15 people lived, killing 10 children and two adults who were trapped by soaring flames that destroyed the main staircase.
The fire broke out only hours before a woman who lived in the house was to go to court to fight an eviction notice, according to the woman's mother. The woman survived the fire, along with two other adults.
The wood and brick house in a run-down neighborhood on the city's North Side was gutted by the flames, which also spread to an adjacent building.
The dead youngsters were 11 months to 8 years old, according to fire Battalion Chief James Rechlitz. Officials said they were the children of three sisters who lived in the house along with a friend, Jill Schreck.
One of the sisters, Vanessa Phillips, 29, died in the blaze along with a friend, William Thomas, 41.
Willie Cross, one of the survivors, said the fire woke him up and he and Annie Phillips, who also survived, ran outside. The third sister, Angela Jefferson Woods, was not in the house at the time of the fire.
Cross said he tried to climb up to a second-floor window using a front porch so he could help those trapped by the flames.
"I got up to the top window, but the smoke knocked me down," Cross said.
Rosella Ramthun, Schreck's mother, said her daughter had been served with an eviction notice and was due in court today to fight it.
"They had everything packed. They were going to move," said Ramthun, who lives down the street from the ruined house.
Fire officials said the home was engulfed in flames when they arrived. They said the stairway to the second floor was burned away, preventing firefighters from quickly getting to the victims there.
The blaze, reported at 4:42 a.m., started in the first floor of the two-story house, apparently in the kitchen, Rechlitz said. The cause was not immediately determined, but a state fire marshal was at the scene to aid in the investigation.