By John Seewer
The Associated Press
TOLEDO - The mother of six children killed in a fire told family members that she was standing just outside her open front door when she noticed smoke coming from upstairs and tried to run back and save them.
But the smoke was too much, and she had to run to a neighbor's apartment for help, the woman's mother, Ora Ragland, said Monday, a day after the fire killed seven children.
At least three neighbors went up the staircase, trying to reach the six siblings and a cousin who were trapped in two upstairs bedrooms and screaming for help.
"The smoke was coming at me," said Anthony Osley, who was visiting his sister nearby. "You couldn't save those kids."
All seven, ages 6 months to 7 years, died from smoke inhalation, the Lucas County coroner ruled Monday.
It will be at least two days before investigators can determine the cause of the fire, which started in one of the rear bedrooms on the second floor, said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Metzger.
Tests were planned to see if electric baseboard heaters contributed to the fire. Although it's not known whether two smoke detectors were working, firefighters did not hear them when they arrived, Metzger said.
The victims were five sisters - Tanija Sanders, 7 months; Talia Sanders, 1; Terri Sanders, 6; Brionna McCullough 2; Teairia McCullough, 7 - their brother, Brian McCullough, 5, and a girl cousin, Quanisha Kirk, 7, family members said.
Six were found in an upstairs bedroom and a baby was found in a crib in another room.
Osley said he saw smoke coming from the apartment and at first thought it may be from a backyard barbecue.
He said he was able to reach the top of the stairs but couldn't go any farther.
"The thing that's hurting me was I had to hear those kids screaming," he said. "It just hurts that I couldn't do anything."
Two funeral homes in Toledo have offered to donate their services to the family and the city will give them cemetery plots for all of the children, said Mayor Jack Ford.
"We want to see that the youngsters have a decent burial," Ford said.
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