(CHARLESTON, W.Va.) — The Charleston, W.Va., home where eight people were killed in a fast-moving fire was supposed to be inspected last month, but the fire department official was turned away because there was no adult home, city officials said on Saturday.
“If we had gotten in to inspect we might have saved a lot of lives,” Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said. “One of the messages we got out of this tragedy we need to have inspectors.”
Two adults and six children under the age of eight died in the fire, officials said, and one child remains on life support. The home had only one working smoke detector, and it was not in a location where it would have helped, city officials said.
The victims — a man and two children, his girlfriend’s two children, and his girlfriend’s sister and her two children — appear to have been sleeping when they died, officials said.
“These bodies looked like they were frozen in time, like a statue,” Jones said.
The man’s girlfriend escaped the two-story dwelling around 3:30 a.m. and called 911 from a neighbor’s home. An ambulance and fire trucks arrived within four minutes, but the house had already burned down.
Assistant Fire Chief Bob Sharp told ABC News that officials are investigating how the blaze started.
Jones said officials do not believe it was a case of arson.
According to the mayor, inspectors were supposed to check the home on Feb. 28, and had received permission from the woman who owned and managed the home. But when inspectors arrived, they were told by a juvenile to come back when an adult was at home.
Sharp said the house did not have any smoke detectors installed on the ceilings, however, one was placed under a counter, but wouldn’t have been able to detect the inferno in time to warn the occupants of the home.
“Where it was at, it wouldn’t have helped at all,” Sharp said. “I’ve been here 26 years and never had this many fatalities period, especially involving children in a single family dwelling.”
Officials said there needs to be at least one smoke detector on the first floor and one in every bedroom.
“Had they abided by international property maintenance code a lot of people would’ve been alive that aren’t alive today,” said Jones.
For now, investigators are sifting through the debris, hoping to find clues of what caused what they called the worst fire in Charleston’s history.
“I mean it was quite a hot fire, you know coming out, fully involved out the front, it had already vented itself, so we know there was no survivability in the front room at all,” Sharp said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ralph Ellis and Chuck Johnston, CNN
Madison Park, Keith Allen and Andreas Preuss, CNN