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Five Children Die In Daycare Fire; Officials Blame Lack Of Smoke Detectors

Content warning: child death

In Pennsylvania, a three-story house that operated as a daycare went up in flames on Sunday, killing five children, four of whom were siblings. The children's father was reportedly a volunteer firefighter who was responding to another call at the time. Fire officials who inspected the home say the building did not have enough working smoke detectors.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services says that childcare center inspectors, who conduct annual assessments, are not required to check for smoke detectors. Erie Fire Chief Guy Santone stated that inspections merely check for child proofing. “We’re going to close that gap,” he added. “This is unacceptable. This just can’t go on any more like this.”

Sen. Daniel Laughlin (R-PA) said he intends to introduce a bill that would require the Department of Human Services to “include the inspection of all smoke detectors in their annual inspection of child care facilities.”

The National Fire Protection Association recommends installing smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area and on every story of a home. They also state that all alarms should be interconnected so that if one goes off, all go off.

The Harris Family Daycare, which operated out of a three-story, single-family home, should have had a minimum of eight working smoke detectors, according to NFPA safety standards. Larger homes require more smoke detectors since the spread of smoke, heat and fire can be delayed by closed doors.

“We would like to offer our deepest sympathies to all affected by the tragic fire on West 11th Street, it is simply an unbearable loss for the families and for our community,” the Erie Fire Department said in a statement. “This tragedy will linger in the memory of all involved for the rest of their lives, we can only hope that the community can someday heal.”

Officials, who are investigating the cause of the blaze, believe the fire began on the first floor of the home. They suspect the cause was accidental and possibly due to an electrical malfunction. According to the US Fire Administration, between 2014 and 2016, electrical fires accounted for 6.3% of all residential fires, with approximately 24,000 fires being reported each year.

The only smoke detector found in the home was in the attic, according to Santone. The fire was reported at 1:15 am on Sunday, when Danika Scott, a neighbor, saw flames, and heard someone scream.

The children's mother, Shevona Overton, who was in the home when the fire broke out, told Erie News Now, "I'm just so hurt my babies are gone. I love them dearly. I just hurt inside knowing that my kids were fighting and hurting in that fire. Every minute, I feel the same pain."

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Overton identified her children as La’Myhia Jones, 8; Luther Jones Jr., 6; Ava Jones, 4; and Jaydan Augustyniak, 9 months. The fifth victim was later identified as two-year-old Dalvin Pacley. Aside from Overton, an adult and two teenage boys also survived the fire. It is believed that all five children died from carbon monoxide toxicity and smoke inhalation, though toxicology tests could still take a few weeks to confirm those suspicions, coroner Lyell P. Cook said.

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