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Child dies in house fire in River Falls, Wisconsin

"Just devastated": 6-year-old dies in River Falls house fire
"Just devastated": 6-year-old dies in River Falls house fire 02:06

RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- A child is dead after a house fire in western Wisconsin early Friday morning. The city of River Falls has identified the child as 6 year-old Zaelia Follansbee of Hudson, Wisconsin. 

The River Falls Fire Department received a call about a house fire around 4:30 early Friday morning. 

A neighbor, Cory Anderson, says he's the one who made the call. 

"I woke up to a pounding on my door and I opened it up and a lady was screaming that her house was on fire and so I looked over there and that place was engulfed in flames," Anderson said. 

Anderson's home served as a temporary refugee as families in nearby homes evacuated their own homes and gathered in his driveway. 

"I thought it was going to spread. I thought it was going to go everywhere. So I just got my kids dressed and got my family together and got out," Anderson said. 

They quickly learned the woman who woke Anderson still had a child inside her now engulfed home. 

"So family members were on scene with PD, indicating when we got on scene that there was somebody still trapped inside. So we were able to pinpoint the room and then we sent crews in to do a primary search and rescue for that individual," said Chief Steven Cash. 

"We all just got together and we're kinda like, wondering if there's anything we could do or what we need to do next," Anderson said. "Everybody was just devastated at that point. We wanted to help but...there's nothing that really we could do. It was terrifying." 

Firefighters found the child, who was pronounced dead on scene. 

"We were hoping for a better outcome but unfortunately, just circumstances wouldn't allow for that. The fire conditions at that time indicated it would be a body recovery cause it was unsustainable for human life at that point," Cash said. 

The cause of the fire is under investigation but Chief Cash says no foul play was suspected. "This looks like an accidental tragedy," he said. 

Chief Cash said several factors played a factor in the fatal fire spreading, including the material the homes were made of. 

"What we see is things getting fully engulfed in two and a half minutes where 30, 40 years ago, it would take 30 minutes to grow to that level," he said. 

Cash says the door to the room the child was discovered in was open, a reminder of the "Close before you doze" tip for doors in a home. 

"By closing that door, you create a sustainable life space that takes at least twenty minutes to burn through," he said. "It buys a lot of time for a safe rescue. If you crack your door even a half inch to an inch, you lose that safety factor. When we came here and did our search and rescue, the door was open at the time." 

Red Cross is providing aid to the families displaced by the fire. 

"My heart just goes out to them. All of our hearts do. I can't even imagine what that would feel like to lose a child," Anderson said. 

"We never like to see this any time of year, whether it's adult, child ... fire fatalities are something we never want to encounter our entire career," Cash said.

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