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9 Die in Fire at House With Barred Windows

Blaze: Four people rescued, one person escaped. Firefighters hampered by pit bulls and burning cars.

April 27, 1997|From the Associated Press

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. — Nine people, including five children, died Saturday in a house blaze that firefighters had trouble reaching because of bars on the windows, pit bulls and burning cars, officials said.

Fire officials treated the area as a crime scene, and arson dogs sniffed through the charred home's remains in search of a cause. Officials confirmed that the fire started in the carport and spread to the house.

Four people--some with serious injuries--were rescued. At least one survivor escaped without help, said Capt. Harold Schapelhouman, a spokesman for the Menlo Park Fire District. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries.

A neighbor said an elderly woman lived in the house with three daughters, a son and nine grandchildren, though officials said at least some of the children inside were visiting for the weekend.

"They were all in this yard yesterday, happy children riding their bikes and playing. That's so sad," said Ethel Brown, a longtime resident who lives two doors down from the burned house, where children's bikes remained in the frontyard.

Firefighters were called about 6 a.m. to the two-alarm blaze in the working-class neighborhood about 30 miles south of San Francisco, Schapelhouman said. The fire, which engulfed much of the small wood-frame house, was extinguished half an hour later.

Schapelhouman said the victims were found in hallways, bedrooms and closets in the one-story home, which did not have smoke detectors.

"It's a very tragic scene," he said.

The youngest victims were identified as Darcy Dixon, 5; Angelika Rahiman, 6; Anthony Taylor, 9; Donta Price, 11; and Jameace Mosley, whose age was unknown.

The others killed were Sonya McKnack, 20; Kanita Rivers, 19; Rivers' mother, Bonnie Thompson, 41; and Alma Campbell, 59, said San Mateo County sheriff's Sgt. Don O'Keefe.

Schapelhouman said firefighters were hampered by two "hyped up" pit bulls in the backyard, bars on the windows and burning cars blocking a doorway and a carport.

The bars, which were not up to code, also kept the victims from escaping.

"The bars are illegal," Schapelhouman said. "Unfortunately, we've had similar problems in this area for years."

A Menlo Park fire spokesman said two firefighters suffered minor burns and one had breathing problems.

At the scene, a chaplain comforted the family's friends and neighbors.

Investigators blocked off the street and set up a temporary morgue in a white tent in the home's frontyard until the bodies were taken to the coroner's office.

Officials said the pit bulls were not injured and were taken to an animal control shelter.

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