Memphis Fire Department said three adults and six children died in an early morning house fire Monday.
Emergency crews rushed to the scene on Severson Avenue near James Street just before 1:30 a.m., when someone inside the home called 911 from a cell phone.
Investigators said the family was unable to get out of the home. The house had a security door and bars on the windows; the family was unable to open the security devices in time to escape.
Family members identified the adults who died in the fire as Carol Collier, Eloise Futrell, and LaKisha Ward. Six children between the ages of 3 and 16 also died in the fire; one child, identified as Cameron, is in the hospital in extremely critical condition.
Investigators believe the fire started with a faulty cord in the air conditioning unit.
Cameron previously played football for the Memphis Raider organization. That group released the following statement after learning the news:
The Memphis Raider organization is saddened by the family's loss and praying that Cameron makes it through the tragedy. It's always hard to hear about children dying, but it's especially hard when it is a player of your own. We are praying for the family.
Firefighters arrived at the home less than four minutes after receiving the call. They said they only saw light smoke inside the home. It then took 15 minutes for fire crews to put out the fire and pull the family of 10 out of the home.
The fire only burned 25 percent of the home. MFD said most of the fatalities were caused by smoke inhalation.
Seven of the 10 family members died in the fire. The three remaining children were immediately taken to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. Two of those children died.
Memphis Fire Department originally reported the fatalities as four adults and five children, but later learned one of the people they thought was an adult was actually under 18 years old.
Some of the victims attended Cummings Elementary School. The principal released the following statement to parents:
This news is devastating to all of us at the school. Grief counselors were on campus today to help students and staff members cope with this tragedy, and counselors will be made available the rest of the week. If you feel your child needs support beyond this week, please let me know.
I ask that you keep this family in your thoughts tonight. We will be sure to pass along any information on other ways you can support the family in the days to come.
Most tragic fire in in nearly a century
Memphis Fire Department Director Gina Sweat said this fire is one of the most devastating in the department's history.
"This is the most tragic fire incident in Memphis since the 1920s," Sweat said. "Nothing can truly prepare us for this heartbreaking event."
Sweat said tragedies like these leave a powerful and strong reminder.
"It is times like these we are reminded how precious, important, and short our lives can be," Sweat said.
She said the impact the incident had on the firefighters was obvious.
"It was kind of a quiet calm among the firefighters. You could feel their pain," Sweat said. "Nothing in our training can truly prepare us for this heartbreaking event."
"In my 27 years with the Memphis Fire Department, I have never seen this amount of victims on one incident," MFD spokesman Lt. Wayne Cooke said. "We sincerely pray for this family and for the loved ones of this family."Memphis Fire Department said the fire started in the living room.
Cooke added that firefighters will receive counseling after this incident.
"We do provide our firefighters with critical stress debriefing," Cooke said. "All those who responded to the scene, along with some of our emergency dispatch operators, will receive that assistance."
Fire investigators said the fire started in living room.
Firefighters said they found a smoke detector, but it was too damaged to tell if it was working.
Cooke said that smoke detectors are available for free at the Fire Museum of Memphis.
Over the next few days, MFD will be doing a smoke detector blitz to put working smoke detectors in homes around Memphis.
Cooke also recommended that all family members have an escape plan for every room of the house.
"Know how to get out of every room in your home at least two ways," Cooke said.
Mayor Jim Strickland was visibly moved by the tragedy.
"Our whole city is in mourning for the loss of much of one family," Strickland said.
Now, a city is left heartbroken and touched by such a horrible tragedy...and praying for a devastated family.
"We ask God to comfort them during this extremely difficult time," Sweat said.
Family members react to tragic fire
It's the hardest day this family has ever faced. A father, who has lost six of his children, survived the devastating house fire because he was not home when the fire started. But, his girlfriend Lakisha Ward was in the home and died in the fire.
"I know she was fighting to save those children," Ward's mother said.
Ward's mother lost her daughter and grandson, Alonzo, in the house fire. She said her daughter had only one child, but she loved all of the children as if they were her own.
"It didn't matter. She would go and get the kids even if it was just her without the dad," Ward's mother said. "She took it upon herself to take the kids in."
Other relatives and cousins on the scene of the fire couldn't find the words to explain the pain.
"It's hard to describe. You can never describe something of this magnitude," cousin Jerry Brack said. "The devastation is unbelievable."
The community outpouring of support and love in south Memphis was tremendous as people from all over the city drove by or walked up to express their condolences. It was difficult for many family members to process the reality of what had happened.
"When I got the call this morning I was really shocked. I didn't know what to do," cousin Reginae Bonner said.
All of the children killed in the fire were siblings. One of their cousins didn't want to be identified, but did her best to describe the personalities of the children.
"They were really sweet. They were respectful and they were good kids," the cousin said.
The children were always seen around the community together; tragically, friends and family noted that they died together Monday morning.