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Indiana House Fire Kills At Least 4

An early morning fire swept through a small house where neighbors say about a dozen people lived in makeshift rooms, killing at least four people early Sunday and leaving others unaccounted for, authorities said.

State Fire Marshal Roger Johnson said at a news conference that four bodies had been found in the house and firefighters were searching through debris. Johnson, who had earlier said the fire claimed at least six victims, said investigators are not sure if there are more victims.

"We've had mixed reports on whether there are additional people inside," he said. "We would not be surprised to find to find additional victims but at this point we only have four."

Johnson said there was an unusually large number of people of living in the house, but he would not speculate on how many lived there.

"Flames were rolling out the windows. I could feel the heat coming in through my window. "It was really intense," said Frank Hanrath, who lives across the street.

Michigan City Fire Chief Ralph Martin said officials do not know the identities or the ages of the victims. He said the fire appears to have started in the back of the house, but how it started is not yet clear.

Telephone messages left for the LaPorte County coroner were not immediately returned.


Martin said that when the fire crews arrived the rear of the home was fully engulfed in the flames and within minutes the flames spread to the entire house. He said the fire appeared to have been traveling from the back of the home through the walls or ceiling to the front.

"It was a flash hot fire. Any time you get fire within the walls and ceilings and roof area it takes time to put it out," he said.

Hanrath's wife, Holly, said the couple had been in the home and said it had been subdivided into rooms made only of plywood sheeting and that there mattresses on the kitchen floor. They said the wiring and plumbing was old and they could smell gas near the stove.

She said the people who lived in the house were Asian.

Late morning Sunday, neighbors in the working class neighborhood watched as firefighters emerged from the home's heavily charred second floor carrying a large blue bag that appeared to contain a body.

The home, its yellow exterior blackened from fire, was cordoned off with police caution tape. Officials milled about on the debris-strewn lawn as firefighters peered into the home from three ladders placed at second-story windows and a ladder truck.

Neighbor Jerome Kucharski said he heard a commotion and saw the flames and then ran to the scene to see the back of the home fully engulfed with flames shooting out of the back windows.

"When I looked out, the flames were way, way up there," he said.

Neighbor Tawny Anderson said she was awakened by the sounds of fire engines and looked out of her window to see flames rising above the peak of the house separating hers from the home destroyed by the fire.

She rushed out of her home with her three children before firefighters moved in and hosed down her house and the one next to it to prevent the fire from spreading.

Anderson said she had moved into the neighborhood only six weeks ago and did not know the people who lived in the house destroyed by the fire.
"They were quiet. They kept to themselves," she said.