GRAY, Ky. >> As flames engulfed a small house in rural southeastern Kentucky, Gino Cima raced to the scene to try to save his nephew, his nephew’s fiancee and the five children inside. The drive in the tiny town of Gray took just minutes, but family members said today that Cima was too late — he reached a side door as the fire raged and pulled out the bodies of the two adults.
“Hey, there’s babies in there, there’s babies in there!” Gino Cima screamed to firefighters, according to his wife, Laura, who also was at the scene.
The fire killed all seven people in the ranch-style home Saturday. Officials did not identify the victims, but family members said the children ranged in age from 10 months to 3 years. They said the woman who died was three months pregnant and was the mother of three of the children inside. The other two children were siblings and friends of the family, visiting for the night for a sleepover, the relatives said.
Officials said the cause of the fire was under investigation. Arson investigators were at the scene Saturday, but officials said no foul play was suspected.
Laura Cima said she owned the single-story, wood-frame house that the couple was renting. She said they had recently moved in and were busy painting and getting carpets cleaned. They shared a bedroom in the back of the house, and Cima said the children were sleeping in a front room Saturday morning. She described an unused bedroom where she and her husband saw flames pouring out of a window when they arrived Saturday.
Gray is a few miles outside of Corbin, a city of about 7,000 in the foothills of Appalachia near the Daniel Boone National Forest and the borders of Tennessee and Virginia.
Shannon Disney, a sister-in-law of one of the victims, said the house that burned on Shady Brook Lane is surrounded by homes of family members — so many that the area is nicknamed “Disneyland.” She said a relative who drove past the house at 7:45 a.m. noticed nothing unusual, but another who lives nearby saw smoke coming from it around 9 a.m.
Disney described the couple as devoted to the children, with their lives organized around bedtime and bath time. She said the woman had just gotten an ultrasound, and the couple was excited to plan for the birth, though they didn’t know yet whether it was a boy or girl.
Disney called the house alive with kids, with the couple regularly pulling children on a wagon, pushing a tire swing or playing hide-and-seek. Today, children’s toys and a stroller were seen outside the house as a stream of people stopped by.
“Everybody is very heartbroken over it. Everybody knows the Disney family,” said Amy Weddle, who was working at J&G Market, a popular convenience store where the couple and the children frequently stopped to buy candy and milk. “They’re always good to everybody.”
Weddle put a jar on the counter today seeking donations to help pay for burial expenses. It had four $1 dollar bills in it this morning.
State police said today that no more information on the fire would be released until Monday.