MAYSVILLE, Ky. >> Chris Hargis and Lori Doppelheuer both initially escaped a fire consuming their old row house, but neither one stayed outside for long: Each rushed back into the flames and smoke in a desperate bid to save their five children.
Hargis was able to rescue two daughters, ages 15 and 7.
But Doppelheuer never made it back out. She was found dead in the back of the house upstairs with the bodies of three other children: 10-year-old Christopher Kearney, 3-year-old Eagan Hargis and 20-month-old Kieran Hargis.
The fire gutted three brick buildings built in 1840. Two others were damaged. Investigators believe it started on the back porch of one of them. Also killed was a neighbor of Hargis and Doppelheuer, 68-year-old Larry R. Brickels.
Authorities have ruled out arson, but the exact cause of the fire is under investigation. The home where the children died did not have any working smoke detectors, Maysville Fire Chief Kevin Doyle said. The building where Brickels died did.
“The type of construction that these row houses are, are essentially a large pile of kindling,” Doyle said.
A neighbor who survived said she saw Doppelheuer, 35, rush back inside as flames shot out of the building.
“We were saying, ‘God, no, God, no,’ and I knew she wasn’t coming back out,” Ruth Austen said, holding and comforting a crying cat she said belonged to the victims.
Hargis, also in his 30s, ran in and out of the burning building several times, Doyle said.
Hargis’ mother, Beverly Hargis, said he was able to rescue the two girls.
“He threw a blanket over them, scooped them up and took them out,” she said.
Firefighters tried to get inside one of the burning buildings and go upstairs, but the stairwell was weakening, and intense fire forced the crew back outside, Doyle said.
He said another crew was sent up a ladder into a second-story window of the building where the family died, but the roof started collapsing.
“And we knew that there was no survivable space in the rear of that portion, which is where the victims ended up being,” Doyle said.
The chief said about 40 firefighters from several departments helped battle the blaze, which displaced about 30 people. No firefighters were injured.
Family members said Doppelheuer had served in the Marines for four or five years but did not have details about her military service.
Relatives of the victims hugged and consoled each other while standing vigil across the street. Some pulled out a few belongings salvaged from the charred house.