At least three children killed in home day care fire

HOUSTON The fire broke out at Jackie's Child Care facility on Crest Park Dr. at Waypark Drive just after 1:30pm yesterday. Neighbors began noticing smoke come out of the house, which is used as a day care.

John Chestnut and his good friend Jeffrey were outside their homes when they saw the smoke.

"It was just too much smoke to even try to go in there," he said.

But the 19-year-old still ran into the smoke-filled home.

"I get on my hands and knees and crawl in there, I can't see anything, it's hot and I'm coughing and can't breathe and all I hear are kids left and right saying, 'Help me, help me,'" Chestnut said.

Chris Wendenburg also immediately tried to help.

"Just went to the back door with two other neighbors, saw what we could to get the kids out. They were screaming. There were kids inside; we couldn't get any out," said Wendenberg.

He says the owner of the day care had pulled two of the children out, but the smoke got too thick. They had to wait for firefighters to arrive to rescue the other five children.

Neighbor Sandy Sawyer witnessed the chaotic effort to save the babies.

"I've never seen anything like that before with babies being run down the street," said Sawyer. "The ambulance couldn't get through because of the fire truck. And the lady with the daycare wasn't sure they had all the babies, so she was really distraught."

HFD Executive Assistant Fire Chief Rick Flanagan told Eyewitness News that seven children, ages 18 months to three years, were transported to the hospital. According to fire investigators, three of those children have died.

Fire investigators say sorting out the facts will take some time.

"There's a lot of work. We're not sure of the structure of the family at this point, so there is a lot of work for us to do," said Flanagan. "Right now, it's just a very trying time for the neighborhood and for the firefighters."

Wendenburg just wished he could have helped more.

"Just looked to see what we could do and there wasn't much; (it was) real smokey," said Wendenberg.

Chestnut shared the same sentiment.

"I felt really bad, like inside I was just like I have to find one of these kids," he said.

Witnesses say they saw very few flames, but a lot of smoke coming from the home. SkyEye HD was over the scene and a day care van could be seen parked in front of the home, and high chairs and other child care items were visible through broken windows.

Arson investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire.

Officials with CPS tell us they're also conducting a full investigation. They also say the caregiver is fully licensed and they've never received any complaints about the operation. The daycare was cited for not having a fire extinguisher and carbon monoxide detector. CPS tells us the problem was corrected the next day.

Victims transported to hospitals

The victims of the fire were sent to hospitals all across the city. Three of them were sent to Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center.

Authorities say most of the children were administered CPR as they were loaded onto ambulances, and as of Thursday night, at least three of the victims remained hospitalized.

The child who was brought to Memorial Hermann Southwest and another who was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital at Memorial City were among the three children who did not survive.

Of the surviving children, one was listed on Thursday night in good condition and another in critical at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital. We've learned a third surviving child was transported to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston, which specializes in burn care.

Due to privacy issues at the hospital, the names, genders and exact ages of the children have not yet been released.

We also know all of the children are being cared for suffered smoke inhalation and/or burns.

Doctors at Shriner's said on Thursday afternoon they planned to check their breathing, because they're concerned about smoke inhalation, and they will give them sedation for the pain. Doctors also are expected to give them antibiotics to prevent infections which can kill a child with a large open burn. And they will clean the wounds, and put what they call a special dressing on it. They also give the children a feeding tube to make sure they get nutrients. If they need surgery, we're told, it's likely to happen on Friday.

At Shriners, they specialize in pediatric burns which are more complicated than adult burns. That's why the rapid transfer when it's possible. Skin grafting will begin soon. If they have skin, they will likely do once-a-week grafts to cover the burns. If there is little skin left to graft, they can use cadaver skin or pigskin to cover the wound. But the big enemy of a child's recovery is smoke.

"It is really carbon monoxide that is the culprit in that case. Carbon monoxide binds to the hemoglobin in the blood stream, it replaces oxygen, takes oxygen away from the brain," said Dr Brent King, chairman of the UH Health Emergency Department.

That's why emergency physicians must treat smoke inhalation first, and then the burns later.

Doctors tell us if there is little smoke inhalation that the survival rate for a child burned over 90 percent of his body, is about 50 percent.

Day care rules complicated

State day care folks are on the scene of the fire. The home day care is one of 2,500 in the 13 county area that includes Houston.

The rules for home day cares are complicated and we quite frankly don't know at this hour if any rules were violated. We know the home day care got its license in March of 2010 and wasn't due for another inspection until this time next year. Neighbors say the daycare has been open for about a year

And we know that one adult can be watching up to 12 kids, if half are school age. But the number depends totally on the ages of the kids. Kids under 18 months are considered infants so they count as two kids. We did see high chairs inside the home, so until we know for sure the ages we won't know how many adults were supposed to be there supervising, or if a horrible accident was just that.

Day cares are not required to provide a roster of their kids and ages before they operate, so in effect it's an honor system. That will be part of what's investigated -- how old were the kids and how many adults were supervising.

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