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Mother, 8 Children Killed In Greenville House Fire

Mother, 8 Children Killed In Greenville House Fire

CREATED Jan 31, 2014

GREENVILLE, Ky. – A father and his 11-year-old daughter remain hospitalized following a fire that killed his wife and eight other children in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, early Thursday morning.

Officials with Vanderbilt University Medical Center said Chad Wilson and his daughter Kylie remained in critical but stable condition on Friday morning.

A prayer vigil was scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at the Calvary Baptist Church in Central City. A fund has been set up for donations at three area banks: First Kentucky Bank, Old National and Commonwealth Community Bank.

The fire was reported around 2 a.m. Thursday at a home at 3749 Motes Lane off Highway 62 in the Depoy community, about 4 miles northwest of Greenville.

Officials said it appeared the fire started accidentally when combustible material brushed against an electric baseboard heater in one of the bedrooms.

There were 11 people inside the home when the fire broke out.

"I saw the house engulfed in flames, and I knew 11 people were in there and to myself, I knew they weren't getting out," said neighbor Clarence Humphrey. "I don't really know how to act or how to feel. You're just numb to it and paralyzed knowing there's nothing you can do to help them."

Muhlenberg County Coroner Tony Armour said the fire occurred at the home of 36-year-old Chad Watson and 35-year-old LaRea Nicole "Nikki" Watson. He said the couple had 9 children ranging from ages 4 to 15.

Kentucky State Police Trooper Stu Recke said Nikki Watson and her children were found in the master bedroom of the home, part of which had collapsed during the blaze. Recke said that could be an indication they were trying to escape through a window, but investigators aren't sure.

The mother and children were all found together; the ninth person was found between 10 and 15 feet away, Recke said.

"I do have children and whenever you have a loss of life, young or old, it's a tragedy," said Recke.

Chad Watson and 11-year-old Kylie Watson survived the blaze and were being treated for severe burns and smoke inhalation. Both were transported by LifeFlight medical helicopter to Vanderbilt University Medical Center's trauma center in Nashville.

Both were transported in critical condition, and their status was later upgraded.

In addition to Nikki Watson, the other victims were identified as 15-year-old Madison Watson, 14-year-old Kaitlyn Watson, 13-year-old Morgan Watson, 9-year-old Emily Watson, 8-year-old Samuel Watson, 6-year-old Raegan Watson, and 4-year-old twin brothers Mark and Nathaniel Watson.

Chad Watson told first responders his wife and other children were still inside the home. Officials said the heat was so intense, emergency crews could not get inside to rescue the victims.

The victims' bodies were sent to a forensic pathologist in Madisonville, Kentucky.

The house was a total loss. One entire section of the home was gone, with part of the roof caved in. The rest of the house appeared to be gutted. Much of the ground near the house was charred black.

Chief Darren Harvey with the Greenville Fire Department said multiple fire crews on the scene. Crews from the Graham and Central City volunteer fire departments were also called to help.

The fire broke out in the single-family house just west of Greenville, which is about 130 miles southwest of Louisville in the state's western coal fields. Greenville had a population of just more than 4,000 people in 2010, census figures show.

A family member, Ricky Keith, who lives about a mile up a hill from the home, said the couple struggled financially with Chad Watson working construction and handling a paper route while Nikki Watson stayed home with the children.

"I don't know how they made it as long as they had. They've struggled as long as I've known them, but they loved one another, I know that and they loved them kids," Keith said.

Recke described the region as "a rural area where everybody knows everybody." The house is in a small neighborhood of single-family dwellings, trailers and farmland.

In front of the house, a white van stood on a concrete parking pad. At least five kids' bikes and a child's riding toy were strewn about the yard near a swing set.

Keith said the home was "wore out" and the children played constantly in the yard.

"They kept them in the yard and didn't let them out of their sight," Keith said.

Several first responders lived near the home and reported that the house was fully engulfed when they arrived, within minutes of getting the call, Recke said.

The Kentucky State Fire Marshal also had an investigator on the scene. Recke said it is too early to tell what caused the blaze but noted that temperatures in the area were in the teens and single-digits overnight.

Muhlenberg County Judge-Executive Rick Newman said grief counselors would be meeting with first responders Friday. School Superintendent Rick McCarty said counselors were being made available to students and staff.

Recke described the region as "a rural area where everybody knows everybody." The house is in a small neighborhood of single-family dwellings, trailers and farmland.

"The whole county is close. You've got a very small community, everybody knows everybody," Newman said. "They know their business, their hardships, the whole deal."

The side and roof of the small, white-wood frame house with three bedrooms and an enclosed porch collapsed around the chimney. In front of the house, a white van stood on a concrete parking pad. At least five kids' bikes and a child's riding toy were strewn about the yard near a swing set.

Keith said the home was "wore out" and the children played constantly outside.

"They kept them in the yard and didn't let them out of their sight," Keith said.

Several first responders lived near the home and reported that the house was fully engulfed when they arrived within minutes of getting the call, Recke said.

Newman said he worries about the neighbors and first responders in the area. While the county had seen coal miners die, the deaths of nine family members is nearly unheard of.

"This is a strong community," Newman said. "But, man, I'm telling you, it's difficult."

Thursday's blaze was Kentucky's third fire in a little more than a year that has killed five or more people. Last January, four children under 6 and their father were killed in a blaze near Pikeville in eastern Kentucky that also severely burned their mother. Authorities said the home lacked a smoke detector.

In March, a fire at a home in the southern Kentucky community of Gray killed a young couple and five children, the oldest of whom was 3.

The area of the latest fire was featured in the 1971 John Prine song "Paradise," about the impact of coal mining and what happens to the area around the Green River once the mining ends. The song references Peabody Energy Corporation and a now-defunct town called Paradise.

(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)