The 8-year-old neighbor girl came banging on James Humphrey’s door just after 4 a.m. Thursday, and soon his own granddaughter was screaming: “The house on fire! The house on fire!” Just up Leslie Avenue, Humphrey saw thick, black smoke billowing from a home where he knew four young girls lived with their parents. In the yard, their mother cried: “My babies! Please, Lord, save my babies!” according to another neighbor.
Soon after firefighters put out the flames, a father and his two young daughters lay dead. Another of his girls, authorities said, was gravely injured.
“It’s very sad, and very frustrating,” Prince George’s Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said. “We have a family that’s now broken.”
The deaths came on a terrible night that was part of a terrible few days in Prince George’s County. Less than nine hours earlier, a 3-year-old rushing to greet his grandmother was run over by a car that rolled backward after his father left it running. And in a 48-hour span Monday and Tuesday, four people were shot and killed, including the sixth Prince George’s school student to be slain this school year.
As more residents have been touched by the rash of tragedy and violence across this sprawling suburb, feelings of restlessness and fear have grown. At a vigil for a murder victim Wednesday night, youths shoved each other, and others scattered in fear of more violence. At the scene of the fire Thursday, neighbors shook their heads as they reflected on the seemingly unending stream of tragedies.
“I’m really feeling bad right now,” neighbor Sara Furr said. “It’s really sad.”
Bashoor said firefighters pulled four people without a pulse from the burning house in Glenarden — a father and three of his daughters, ages 11, 8 and 4. The father, 8-year-old and 4-year-old were pronounced dead at the hospital, he said. Emergency workers were able to restore the 11-year-old’s heartbeat, and she was in critical condition Thursday.
Another 8-year-old daughter — a twin of one of the victims — and her mother jumped out of a window before firefighters arrived, Bashoor said. They were hospitalized for smoke inhalation but are expected to recover.
Bashoor did not immediately identify those killed in the fire, saying officials were awaiting autopsy results. But officials familiar with the case identified them as Tania Monae Jeanita Price, 8, Patrice Price, 4, and Darrell T. Price Jr., 36. Surviving are Daijah Nya-Tashawn Price, 11, Tamia Jonae Jean Price, 8, and their mother, Teresa Price, 33, according to an official and neighbors.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they could be disciplined for providing the names ahead of the fire department’s official announcement.
Deputy Fire Chief Ben Barksdale said the home was being renovated and had extension cords running to multiple appliances. Investigators were looking into that as a possible cause.
Bashoor, though, said the renovations and cords did not seem to be a “primary issue.” He said the fire started in the home’s living room, but the cause remained under investigation.
Bashoor said the home did not appear to have working smoke alarms. He said firefighters were going door-to-door in the neighborhood Thursday, checking batteries in the alarms in other homes and offering alarms to those who needed them.
“Would it have saved them? No, I don’t know that,” Bashoor said. “If they had a smoke alarm, I know they would have had a better chance than they did.”
On Thursday, fire investigators sifted through the charred wreckage of the one-story brick home in the 8600 block of Leslie Avenue. In the yard, a pink plastic bicycle rested near yellow caution tape — a reminder of the young lives that were lost.
Three of the four girls attended Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary School, and Prince George’s County school officials dispatched grief counselors there Thursday.
Principal Michelle Williams said students were “very solemn” and wanted more information about what happened. All members of the family were “just very loving children” and “very outgoing,” she said.
“It really is a tragedy,” Williams said. “We’re just trying to wrap our heads around this and waiting for additional information.”
Neighbors said the girls would often walk to their bus stop together and play on the swing set with other girls on their block.
Gwendolyn Brown, 67, of Suitland said her grandchildren had just gone to the Leslie Avenue house on Presidents’ Day, a school holiday.
“It’s just so shocking, so devastating,” Brown said. “It’s like being in a bad dream.”
Firefighters were called to the home about 4 a.m. and arrived within five minutes of the first 911 call, Bashoor said. He said two responders were injured: a firefighter who suffered second-degree burns to his ears and an EMS worker who fell on ice. Both injuries were considered minor, Bashoor said.
Most neighbors who witnessed the incident said they heard the sound of the trucks before seeing the smoke and flames.
Humphrey, 72, who lives down the street, said the 8-year-old who jumped out of the window came banging on his door and his granddaughter went to answer it. Soon, he said, he was watching firefighters take someone from the smoke-filled home on a stretcher.
“It’s hard to believe,” Humphrey said. “All these kids, they all know each other.”
The blaze was one of two in the area Thursday. About 9:30 a.m., firefighters put out a fire less than two miles away in the 3900 block of 92nd Avenue in Springdale. Those inside were able to get out of the home safely, Bashoor said. Fire officials said the blaze started when a homeowner using a propane torch accidentally ignited a pile of leaves.
There have been eight fire-related deaths in Prince George’s this year, compared with 10 in all of 2012, authorities said.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.