As family members mourn the death of five children in a Pennsylvania day care fire, questions remain about why the home apparently didn’t have enough smoke detectors.
The blaze destroyed the Harris Family Daycare in Erie early Sunday, killing four siblings and a fifth child whose mother, Elaine Harris, was the homeowner and ran the daycare, Erie Fire Chief Guy Santone said.
The father of three of those children is a volunteer firefighter who was responding to another call at the time of the blaze, the AP reported.
Fire inspectors could only find one smoke detector, which was in the attic of the two-story house that operated as a day care, Santone said.
“If there were the proper amount of smoke detectors in this structure, then most, if not all, would have survived,” Santone said.
A relative of the day care owner told CNN the facility was often inspected to ensure the safety of children. Pennsylvania state code requires child care facilities run out of a home to have “a smoke detector on each floor and in the basement.”
Fire inspectors, police investigators and an electrical engineer are actively investigating the blaze, Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri told CNN
Harris Family Daycare offers “24 hour, 7 days a week childcare service,” according to the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, a nonprofit.
State online records show the day care has an active “certificate of compliance” from March 21, 2019, to March 21, 2020. The latest inspection took place in December. Several corrections were needed — such as adding protective covers on electrical outlets and removing ashes and cigarette butts, which are prohibited in childcare areas.
The inspection did not mention any concerns with fire safety.
In response to CNN’s request for the facility’s records, the state’s Department of Human Services — which issues permits for day care centers — said it was working on gathering information.
Harris’s stepdaughter, Lataedra Tate, told CNN the day care was inspected regularly.
“They came in all the time, inspecting, making sure kids were safe. This is why it’s just so unimaginable,” she said.
Tate did not say which agency had inspected the home.
‘I’m just so hurt my babies are gone’
The ages of the five victims range from 9 months to 8 years, Santone said Monday.
Shevona Overton, the mother of the four siblings, said she can’t stop agonizing over their final moments
“I’m just so hurt my babies are gone,” Overton told CNN affiliate WICU/Erie News Now.
“I love them dearly. I just hurt inside knowing that my kids were fighting and hurting in that fire. Every minute, I feel the same pain.”
“I’m never going to be the same,” Overton said. “I lost a piece of me that can never be replaced. It’s just something I have to live with, and it’s going to be hard to do.”
The father of three of Overton’s children is a 29-year-old firefighter for the nearby Lawrence Park Volunteer Fire Department.
“There’s no right way to describe his state of mind,” Lawrence Park Volunteer Fire Chief Joe Crotty said of the firefighter, Luther Jones.
Firefighters accustomed to tough situations were overcome with emotion after responding to the fire.
“A few of my guys and girls, they’re having some … problems,” Santone told WICU. “These firefighters are tough. But when something like this happens, it’s a little bit different.”
Two teenagers jumped from a second-floor window onto a porch to escape the flames. Harris, the day care owner, also survived, fire officials said.
‘A house full of kids’
Neighbors and others stopped by the destroyed home to mourn the victims. Some brought their young children.
There was a memorial of flowers and stuffed animals on the sidewalk. The air smelled of smoke.
Overton’s friend, Breonna Payne, became emotional when talking about Overton’s children.
“She lost all her babies,” Payne told CNN. “There’s nothing we could say or do to bring her babies back or to comfort her to the fact that everything’s OK, because it’s not.”
Overton brought her children to the day care while she worked the third shift, said Tate, who is also a friend.
Harris ran through the fire trying to get out of the house, Santone said. She crashed her car on the way to hospital, he said.
She was flown to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for treatment, authorities said. CNN was unable to reach Harris, who was in the hospital Monday afternoon
Harris “loved the kids,” Tate said. “My kids actually went to this day care for two years.”
“It was devastating because she kept a house full of kids,” Tate said.