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Investigators Try to Find Cause of Delaware Fire That Killed 11

Aired January 3, 2001 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story today: Investigators are trying to determine the cause of an overnight house fire in Delaware that killed 11 family members. The victims include several small children.

Firefighters say it was easy to extinguish the flames, but when they entered the house, they were shocked by what they discovered.

CNN's Bob Franken is in Oak Orchard, Delaware; he has the story for us -- Bob

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, there's just been a brief briefing that's been completed, and officials tell us that this is the worst fire tragedy in Delaware since the state fire marshal's office was created about 50 years ago -- 11 dead, as you pointed out: 7 of them children -- there was also a grandmother, and three other daughters of the grandmother in addition to children.

By the time that firefighters arrived -- 7 minutes after alarm was given, at 3:00 this morning Eastern time -- they entered the house and found a grizzly scene. Not a lot of fire damage -- most of it confined to the kitchen -- but extensive smoke damage throughout the house, leading to speculation, CNN is told by sources, that they are investigating the possibility of the probability -- the probability, many of them feel -- that smoke inhalation was the cause of death.

It was fire that investigators say started in the kitchen. The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency is here; that is routine, we are told.

Willard Preston of the state fire marshal's office -- the assistant state fire marshal -- says at this point, they're investigating all possibilities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Why wasn't someone able to get out?

WILLARD PRESTON, DELAWARE ASSISTANT FIRE MARSHAL: Well, at this point, that's part of our investigation, and also, the cause of death is going to be determined by the state medical's examiner's office. So we have to determine what the cause of death was at that point before we can comment on that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Now this is a three-bedroom house in a part of Delaware that is not far from the beaches, but the main industry here is chicken processing plant. This is a family that has lived here a long time. The grandmother in the house had lived here at least 30 years, according to officials.

Still no identification. Officials are still trying to determine the cause of death to make sure that there was no foul play, or more likely, to find out that there was some defect in the house which caused this fire to start in the kitchen.

No word even whether there are smoke detectors. Ironically, just a couple of months ago, there was a fire in this area where five were killed in this same county. So recently investigators -- or rather, officials -- put together a new bid to legislation that requires smoke detectors -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Oh, what a tragic story, Bob Franken, in Delaware.

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