NEW CASTLE, Pa. (KDKA) -- Family members are reflecting on memories of their loved ones who died in a house fire in New Castle.
Nicole Payne and Kia Waller's lives changed forever early Wednesday morning. Smoke was pouring out of the windows of their sister's home on West Clayton Street.
Their sister, 41-year-old Courtney Payne, died in the fire. Payne's daughter, 17-year-old Terianna Payne-Hicks, and her friend, 18-year-old Xzavia Booker, also died in the fire.
"She's the big sister, caretaker, she took care of all of us," Nicole Payne said with tears in her eyes.
"Funny, silly, full of life," Kia Waller said while talking about her niece.
New Castle Fire Chief Michael Kobbe said it looks like the fire started in the kitchen area. He said the smoke was so intense that it made it nearly impossible to see.
"When our first firefighters managed to make entry into the home, the smoke did what we call bank. It pushed all the way down to the floor, so it was basically pitch black in the house whenever they got in. It appears as though a couple of the victims tried to escape but got disoriented," Kobbe said.
Terianna Payne-Hicks was a senior at New Castle High School, and she loved cheerleading.
Superintendent of New Castle Area School District Debbie DeBlasio released a statement, "It was confirmed that it is one of our students. She was a part of the NCASD cheerleading squad. Grief counselors will be available today for the cheerleaders along with the advisors. Monday when students return grief counselors along with our entire Guidance staff will be available to students and staff. This is a terrible tragedy our heartfelt sympathy and prayers go out to the family."
"She's been a cheerleader since she was a little girl, and so she went from cheering at the high school to NCT and they went to so many nationals in Florida," said Waller.
Courtney Payne is being remembered as a great mom to Terianna and her son who she leaves behind. Family members said her son was not home during the blaze. Wednesday was his 12th birthday.
"She was a proud mom, she was a single mom, a strong mom and she took care of those kids by herself," said Waller.
Caution tape is up in front of the home, which was a place where family members used to spend time together. Waller said they were supposed to have a New Year's Eve party there, but now they will be reflecting on precious memories.
Firefighters helped the sisters look for any valuables they could salvage from inside the home.
"It's heartbreaking. Close to the holidays is bad, but this is just bad in general. The community down here is tight-knit," said Chief Kobbe.
Chief Kobbe said fires like this one can be hard for his firefighters and the department will provide crisis management to firefighters.
New Castle police and the fire marshal are investigating the cause of the fire. Chief Kobbe said it doesn't look suspicious at this point.
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