DECATUR, AL (WAFF) - Two preschool age children were killed in an apartment fire in Decatur Thursday morning. Investigators believe the fire may have started in the children's bedroom.
The fire started around 7:30 a.m. Thursday at the West Ridge Apartments on the 1200 block of 5th Avenue Southwest. Emergency crews said the fire started in a lower apartment on the first floor.
The children's grandmother, Barbara Crayton, identified the victims as 2-year-old Dexter Miland Jr. and 4-year-old Marlena Miland.
Family member Whitney Crayton was at home when the fire broke out. She quickly got 911 on the phone as her cousin frantically called for help.
Barbara said she knew something was wrong when she couldn't make out what her daughter was telling her over the phone. "When she called me back, she told me that she couldn't get the grandbabies out and that they were in the house burning," she said.
Authorities said when they arrived on the scene, people told them two kids were trapped inside the apartment.
According to Barbara, the older son woke up the mother, saying the house was smoky. When she went into the room where the younger children were, she saw flames but could not reach the children. The father said he tried to climb through a window to get the children, but he couldn't get inside.
Another boy was inside the apartment at the time of the fire, said Barbara, but managed to get out. As the flames spread, news of the fire spread to neighbors. "I got a phone call while I was at work and I was told my apartment was on fire," said Darnee Clinton. "My boss let me leave. I came home and saw that it wasn't my building on fire, but my neighbors' building next door."
The fire started in the family's unit, one of four apartments in the complex. Two other families were displaced in the fire. One of the apartment units was unoccupied. A father who had children in an upstairs unit said he is devastated that his kids' friends have died. He credits his mother-in-law for alerting the family and getting them out safely.
Red Cross and grief counselors were on hand to assist the families. Fire investigators had to wait hours after the flames were extinguished to examine the building due to concerns over the structure's integrity.
State and city fire marshals and Decatur Police are working to determine the cause. At a news conference Thursday afternoon, officials said they had no exact cause, but had "narrowed down an apparent area of origin" to the bedroom where the children were sleeping.
They were children family and friends described as "typical kids," always happy and full of energy.
Fire officials spent the evening hours boarding up and securing the building. They will return to the scene Friday to continue the investigation. They said they hope to have an official cause determined by Monday.
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