A three-year-old boy and seven-year-old girl have been killed in a house fire and their mother has suffered life-changing injuries.
The desperate mum of the two children suffered broken bones when she jumped from a window to escape the burning terraced home in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, it has been claimed.
When firefighters arrived they were told the children were trapped inside. Crews “fought tirelessly” to bring the fire under control and locate the kids, said Chief Chris Strickland, who described the blaze as “devastating”.
The children died at the scene. The 35-year-old mother suffered life-changing injuries, while her partner, a 46-year-old man, escaped with minor injuries as the tragedy unfolded just two weeks before Christmas.
Flames were shooting out of the three-storey family home in Eynesbury, a suburb of St Neots, when the first fire crews arrived at about 7am on Thursday, CambridgeshireLive reports.
Photos show smoke billowing out of windows as firefighters tried to bring the blaze under control. Black scorch marks and smoke damage were visible on the exterior wall and around windows on the first and second floors in the aftermath.
Mourners left flowers at a memorial set up around a tree near the property as police and fire officials investigated the cause of the blaze. A blue and white police tent was erected in front of the burned-out house.
The house is on a modern estate near St Neots, with many homes decorated for Christmas – including a festive wreath on one immediate neighbour’s door.
Neighbours raised the alarm after they noticed a “serious house fire” had taken hold of the property in the Knights Park development on Thursday morning.
Neighbour Charles Cooper, 30, said: “The flames went up fairly swiftly. By the time my wife and I woke up the firefighters had already arrived.
“It took a good three or four hours before the smoke abated. The flames were coming out of the top window.”
He said he did not know the family to speak to but said “we would give them a wave”.
He added: “I’ve seen the children playing in the garden. Everyone’s perfectly polite and pleasant but it’s not the sort of place we all get together on a regular basis.”
Neighbour Peter Kellythorn, 40, said there was a smell “like something might be smouldering” when he awoke on Thursday.
“I got dressed, came outside and there was smoke billowing out from the back window,” he said.
He added that a satellite dish on the house appeared to have melted, and said: “The heat – it doesn’t bear thinking about.
“It’s awful. We hoped everyone had got out.
“They’re fairly new houses and they’re all fitted with fire alarms and things. It’s just awful.”
It is said that the children’s mum leaped from a window to escape the house.
Angela Russell, who set up a GoFundMe page to help the survivors, said: “A house fire broke out leaving a a family in shatters.
“The mum is at hospital with broken bones after having to jump from the window, and devastatingly the 2 children didn’t survive.
“The step dad is also receiving medical help after rushing home to try and gain access to save the children.
“This couple have lost their home and most precious people in their life, please donate and help.”
At the memorial outside the house, a neighbour left a card reading: “Dear darling angels. Keep holding each other’s hands. You are so loved.
“I came to the house last night to wish you sweet dreams and watch over you.
“Tonight I will come and read you a bedtime story.
“We will look after you and your mummy and daddy.”
A tribute on a teddy bear left at the scene said: “We have no words. So heartbroken. Hope you are all in a better place. XXX.”
Describing the scene, an eyewitness said: “It looks pretty awful.
“It’s a three-storey house – the top window and two windows on the middle floor are gutted, and the bottom floor window is covered with plastic.
“Fire investigators are going in and out. There’s a dog unit here too, although they haven’t gone in yet.”
Two other GoFundMe pages have been set up to help the victims of the blaze, and local residents have been offering donations of food, clothing and shelter to help the woman and man who survived.
Fundraiser Gemma Phillips wrote on one page: “Having only recently been impacted by the devastation caused by the fire of my aunt’s home, my heart completely goes out to this family.
“I can only imagine the suffering they are going through.
“Let’s show them we care by donating to help them through the immeasurable trauma they must be experiencing.”
Neighbour Simona Bagnato, who set up the other fundraiser, wrote on that page: “A house next to ours had an accident. The house is totally burnt.
“As neighbor (sic) I thought to help raising money for this family that have lost everything.
“I know that a little help from each of us will make a difference for these unfortunate people. Thank you for your time.”
People have already started posting heartfelt messages of condolence on Facebook.
One person said: “So utterly heartbreaking. Condolences to all family and friends.”
Another added: “Absolutely devastating. RIP little angels and strength and love to the rest of the family at this heartbreaking time.”
Firefighters from stations in Huntingdon, Sawtry, St Neots, Gamlingay and Cambridge responded to the tragic blaze.
Crews from Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service also attended.
An air ambulance landed nearby.
Investigators remained at the scene on Friday morning.
A fire investigation dog team was involved in the probe.
Mr Strickland, chief of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “This is such a devastating incident and our thoughts remain with the family.
“Crews fought tirelessly to get the fire under control and locate the children who they had been told were still in the house.
“It’s one of the toughest incidents you can attend as a firefighter and we’re looking after the crews who were there.
“But all of our thoughts are very much with the family and the local community and we’ll be in the area over the coming days providing support to residents.”
Locals have started laying flowers and tributes next to a small tree near to the house.
Posting on Facebook, one person said: “For anyone wanting to leave flowers for the family of house fire in Eynesbury yesterday there is a small tree near the house and the fire investigation team have said to leave them there.
“I have just laid some and unknowingly I was the first. Thinking of all the family at this horrific time.”
A Cambridgeshire police spokesperson said: “Emergency services have been at the scene of a house fire in Eynesbury since yesterday morning (December 10) where two children have died.
“It is believed the blaze broke out about 7am at a three-story house in Buttercup Avenue.
“A three-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl were pronounced dead at the scene, a 35-year-old woman has been taken to hospital with life-changing injuries, while a 46-year-old man has suffered minor injuries.
“The cause of the fire is yet to be established, however police are working with fire investigators to get to the route of the blaze.”
Earlier, the force said: “We were called at 7.16am, Thursday December 10, by the ambulance service reporting a fire at a house in Buttercup Avenue, Eynesbury.
“All three emergency services are in attendance.
“Residents are advised to avoid the area while emergency services respond to the incident.”
Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service said on Thursday: “We were called to a house fire on Buttercup Avenue, Eynesbury, at 7.11am.
“Crews responded from Huntingdon, Sawtry, St Neots, Gamlingay, Cambridge, along with crews from Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.
“Firefighters arrived to find a three-storey house with flames issuing from the building.”
The East of England Ambulance Service said previously: “Three ambulances, four Hazardous Area Response Team vehicles, two ambulance officer vehicles and East Anglian Air Ambulance have seen sent to a house fire at an address in Eyenesbury, St Neots.”