COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Two children died early Wednesday morning in a fire at a west Columbia apartment complex.
According to the Columbia Fire Department, firefighters responded to the Columbia Square Apartments in the 1000 block of Claudell Lane for the fire and reports of people trapped at around 1:25 a.m.
Crews reported heavy fire coming from one of the homes. Firefighters said crews discovered the victims on the second floor of the townhome.
A man who was visiting the complex told ABC 17 News he helped save a girl from the fire.
"It was all of us out there because she wasn't really going to try, she wasn't really going to jump, for real, until she felt like that she was in a safe spot," Keaveon Harris said. "So, you know, we all were surrounding each other, you know, she built the courage up to jump."
Later in the morning, neighbors of a nearby complex said they evacuated before first responders got to the scene and the smoke was so thick, they thought it was fog at first.
According to CFD, three children were taken to the hospital for possible injuries. An adult and six other children declined medical treatment at the scene.
A spokesperson said a Columbia police officer who tried to enter the home was treated and released from the hospital for smoke inhalation.
“We're not firefighters," Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones said. "And they have a very difficult job, but we all share a common goal in trying to keep people safe. And he tried to do that."
Columbia Fire Department Chief Clayton Farr Jr. said no smoke detectors were found on the second floor of the townhome. There was a smoke detector on the first floor of the home, but the device wasn't working.
Columbia firefighter Danny Spry stressed the importance of having functional fire alarms.
"In recent events that we've heard about here recently, this is the most important thing you will have in your household besides the members of your family," he said.
Spry said every fire alarm has a 10-year life span, and the manufacturing date can be found on the back of every smoke detector. Fire alarms beep once periodically to indicate that the battery is running low.
Spry said batteries should be changed every six months and advised residents to routinely to check theirs just in case.
The department advises residents to have at least three fire alarms in every home: One in the living room, one in the hallway leading to bedrooms and one in each bedroom.
The fire department also encourages families to design an evacuation plan that every member of the house knows.
"Practice this so it becomes muscle memory for the kids," Spry said. "Get them out safely. And once they're outside, make sure they have a meeting point."
Columbia Mayor Barbara Buffaloe spoke about the victims of the fire and gave her condolences on Wednesday.
"As a mother, I can imagine no, no loss, I can imagine this is horrible. And I know that no words can take away the pain and loss from this," she said. "And we cannot get back yesterday, but what we do today and tomorrow can help. And as a community, we can come together."
Watch a Columbia Fire Department news conference in the player above.
Farr confirmed the victims were students at Columbia Public Schools. The school district plans to provide counseling services to students and staff.
"The loss of children too soon is heartbreaking," CPD said in a statement. "We ask our school-community to keep the family in their thoughts during this very difficult and challenging time."
The fire department hasn't released the names or ages of the children killed in the fire. Investigators are working with the medical examiner and the Columbia Police Department to investigate.
"It's a heavy toll on our staff, so we're working closely with them to make sure they're ok," Farr said. "It's never pleasant to wake up to this, although this is our chosen profession, it's never easy for us to deal with these sorts of incidents."
Firefighters cleared the scene around 5 a.m. There were roughly $80,000 in damages, according to a press release sent later in the day.
A pile of balloons, candles, flowers and stuffed animals sat on the doorstep of the residence Wednesday evening.
"Despite valiant efforts by members of the Columbia Fire and Police Departments as well as EMS and emergency communications partners, families in our community have been devastated by the unimaginable loss of two precious lives in this early morning fire. Please keep these families in your thoughts," Farr said.