NY fire kills 4 family members

February 19, 2009 1:38:59 PM PST
An early-morning fire engulfed two apartments Thursday, killing a woman and three of her children, police said. Eight people jumped out of second-floor windows and survived. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

The cause of the fire in the Long Island village of Lawrence was not yet known, but authorities were checking for signs of arson.

The building held a coin-operated laundry and two second-floor apartments. Authorities said the blaze may have started in the stairway to the second floor. A summons was issued to the building's owner for failure to have a required fire escape.

The victims were a 46-year-old woman, her 19-year-old son and daughters ages 9 and 10, Nassau County police spokesman Lt. Kevin Smith said.

The father, a 12-year-old boy and the 9-year-old girl's twin brother survived by jumping out the windows, along with a tenant in their apartment and four people in the other apartment.

Marta Reyes, who lives a few blocks away, said the woman who died was her friend. "She was a wonderful mother," said Reyes, weeping as she hugged other onlookers.

Reyes said she and the victim became friends in El Salvador, then were reunited after moving to the United States.

"They were a very, very nice family," Reyes said. "She was always with her kids."

While the fire was not being described as suspicious, authorities said a dog was brought in to sniff for any signs of accelerant. The blaze was so fierce that it damaged an adjoining building, displacing about 20 people.

Mike Deery, a spokesman for the town of Hempstead, which includes Lawrence, said officials issued a summons to the building's owner for failure to have a fire escape. A telephone number for the listed owner was disconnected.

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