Four children killed in Stafford house fire named as young siblings
The victims of the blaze have been named as siblings Riley, Keegan, Tilly and Olly, aged between three and eight.
Four young children have died in a house fire in Stafford.
The children, siblings aged between three and eight, died during a fire at a house in the Highfields area of the town in the early hours of this morning.
All four - Olly Unitt, three, Tilly Unitt, four, Keegan Unit, six, and Riley Holt, eight - were pronounced dead after their bodies were found inside the house.
Two adults, understood to be mother Natalie Unitt and partner Chris Moulton, survived after jumping out of a first-floor window with a fifth child, believe to be two-year-old Jack.
Staffordshire Police said a woman aged 24 was being treated for smoke inhalation and a man aged 28 was being treated for burns. Neither of their injuries are understood to be life-threatening.
The cause of the blaze is not yet known.
WATCH: Neighbours left in shock after tragedy
Firefighters, police and paramedics were sent to the two-storey end-terrace house after a 999 call at around 2.40am.
Neighbours reported hearing loud bangs and screams as flames caused major damage to the inside and outside of the building.
A large section of the roof collapsed, while windows were smashed and the inside appeared to have been blackened by smoke.
Interactive map of the area:
Bryan and Wendy Pickering, who live in nearby Landor Way, saw flames coming out of an upstairs window after waking at around 2.30am.
Mrs Pickering, aged 58, said: "As soon as I saw the flames out of the parents window I thought ‘phone 999.’ Then when we put the phone down we saw three fire engines."
Mr Pickering added: "I looked out the back window and there were flames roaring out the house - they were shooting out the upstairs."
Mrs Pickering continued: "I could hear the kids screaming - I thought they were in the back garden - that’s what it sounded like"
"They were still dousing the roof at 8am this morning - smoke was just pouring out.
“I wish we had gone in. I wish we had."
Another nearby resident described how a sheet of flames engulfed an upstairs window at the property.
The witness, who asked not to be named, said: "We heard a bang and looked out of the back window upstairs.
GALLERY: Photos show fire damage
"At the start it was just a sheet of fire coming out of the bedroom window. It seemed to take ages for the fire brigade to arrive - it seemed like forever.
"The neighbours came out and drove their car out of the back garden and there were lots of fire engines and police."
Another resident, who was also reluctant to give her name, said: "The room at the back was completely full of flames.
"We just stood there with our hands over our mouths wondering what was going to happen next.
"A man and a woman got into an ambulance. They were in blankets and she had the little one in her arms.
"I'd assumed they had all got out. It's terribly sad, almost beyond belief."
A friend of the children's mother said she believed the family had lived at the property for around six months, having moved there from another part of Stafford.
Some of the children attended nearby Castlechurch Primary School, neighbours said.
Tearful mother-of-seven Amanda Blagg, 38, left flowers at the scene.
She said: “I used to see the mum everyday taking the kids to school, I only live around the corner.
“I dropped off some flowers and a teddy, I saw what had happened on the news and I just cried.
“As a mother this is terrible, four of my children go to the same school as the kids.”
Sisters Lucy and Sophie Flood also came to pay their respects.
Lucy, a mother-of-one said: “I just wanted to put some teddies down. We know of them. It’s just tragic really. We’ve got children of our own.
"I’ve got a child the same age as she did and there’s just no words for it. She’s my whole world. It’s just really tragic."
A hand-written note attached to a cuddly toy read: "RIP Babes xx life is so so cruel. All our thoughts are with the family at this very sad time."
Meanwhile a JustGiving page for the family set up this morning has already raised more than £2,000.
Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and Staffordshire Police are now investigating what started the fire and a police cordon is in place on surrounding roads.
WATCH: Update from emergency service leaders
Fire crews used an aerial platform to lay a covering over the large hole left in the roof of the house while blue plastic sheeting was placed on its rear wall.
Rob Barber, deputy chief fire officer for Staffordshire fire and rescue service, said: "One male, one female and a baby had escaped from the property prior to our arrival via a first-floor window.
"Our firefighters were faced with very difficult conditions inside the property due to the severity of the fire.
"At this time I cannot comment further on the likely cause."
West Midlands Ambulance Service said three ambulances, two paramedics officers, two doctors and a hazardous area response team were sent to the scene after the 999 call.
Nathan Hudson, assistant chief ambulance officer from West Midlands Ambulance Service, said: “After receiving a 999 call this morning from the fire service at 2.40am, the trust’s control room quickly responded three double crewed ambulances, two paramedic officers, two doctors and the hazardous area response team to the scene of the fire.
“Two adults and a child were already out of the property when crews arrived. They each received treatment by the ambulance staff for non-life-threatening injuries before being taken to the major trauma centre in Stoke. Tragically, four children were confirmed deceased a short time after by our staff.
“This was an immensely difficult incident for all three services to respond to and my thanks go to my staff and all emergency personnel on scene.
“My thoughts, and the thoughts of everyone at West Midlands Ambulance Service, remain with the family and friends at this difficult time.”
Church services were being held at nearby Castle Church this afternoon, where the vicar said the close-knit community had been left shaken.
The Revd Philip Sowerbutts said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family involved following this devastating incident.
"As a church family we grieve alongside the rest of our community here on Highfields. Highfields is a close-knit community and we have all been shaken by this tragedy.
"As a church family we have committed to both praying for the family and community, and to help in an any practical way.
"On our Castle Church social media, we have published specific prayer resources for those who want to pray but struggle to find the right words.
"We are also holding prayer meetings at 2pm and 7.30pm today at our church hall for anyone who wants to attend.”
'Unspeakable': Politicians react
Local politicians expressed their shock at hearing the news this morning and paid tribute to the emergency workers who attended the scene.
Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy said: "The deaths of four children at a house fire in Highfields this morning is unbelievably tragic. My deepest sympathies and prayers go to their families.
"I have spoken to the police, fire and rescue commissioner and I want to pay tribute to the fire and rescue service, the ambulance and police.
"This was clearly a horrific situation. My thoughts are very much with all with those affected and I want to pay tribute to the rescue services under such incredibly difficult circumstances. I gather it was a hugely-serious fire.
"It is unspeakable to think of this. Our hearts are very much with all those affected. It's very difficult to put into words. It's absolutely horrible."
Stafford Borough Council Leader Patrick Farrington said: “This is horrible news. Four young lives have been lost and I cannot comprehend how their family and loved ones can even begin to come to terms with this.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.
"We are also thinking of our emergency services who will have been deeply affected by this tragedy."
Philip Atkins, leader of Staffordshire County Council, added: “I was shocked to hear the terrible news of the deaths of four children in the heart of our community.
“We will support the family in any way and our thoughts and prayers are very much with all those who knew and loved these children and who now must cope with this tragic loss.
“I would also thank all the emergency services for their work and professionalism in these devastating circumstances.”
Matthew Ellis, the Staffordshire Commissioner for Police Fire and Crime, said: "This is an extraordinarily tragic set of circumstances. Our thoughts are with everyone directly involved. This will affect the wider community for some time.
"Tragedies like this are rare and extremely difficult to comprehend when they happen.
"I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services who attended – ambulance, fire and rescue and the police.
"They are all human beings who will be affected by this but they are also professional and will begin thorough investigations to establish the cause of this tragedy in due course."
Our reporters were at the scene:
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