BALTIMORE (AP) _ Although it took firefighters less than three minutes to respond to a row house blaze, little could prepare them for what they found.
Of the 13 people inside the two-story, three-bedroom home in east Baltimore, five were dead before rescuers could get to them Tuesday morning.
The victims were burned so badly that it was impossible to tell whether they were male or female, or even how old they were _ although some were children. A sixth victim, a 5-year-old boy, died at a hospital. Four others were critically injured, and three suffered less severe injuries.
``The scene inside the house was something nobody should have to see, and nobody should have to die that way,'' said Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr., who described the fire as one of the worst he has responded to in his 32-year career.
Dazed neighbors described a horrific scene. At least one person jumped from a window of the burning home, and firefighters tended to another with raw, exposed flesh.
The cause was under investigation. Investigators had not found any evidence of flammable substances being used to start the fire, said Det. Donny Moses, a city police spokesman.
Relatives of the dead gathered at a nearby community center, where they received grief counseling and other services. Many sobbed and embraced each other outside. One woman said her aunt and several other relatives perished in the fire but would not comment further.
The owners of the home, O. Roosevelt Carlest and his wife, Margaret, said they rented it last October to Deneen Thomas and her two sons, one of whom used a wheelchair. They said they were aware that more people were living in the house, and they were trying to evict the family for failure to pay rent.
``My heart goes out toward those children,'' Margaret Carlest said.
The home stands in a low-income community adjacent to Green Mount Cemetery, a city landmark where several former governors, congressmen and military leaders are buried. It also includes the grave of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln's assassin.
Investigators believed the fire started on the first floor, and there was no evidence that the home had working smoke detectors, although fire department records showed that it had them in September 2005, Goodwin said.
Trash was strewn around the alley behind the home even before firefighters began tossing debris out the charred back windows. Many homes in surrounding blocks were boarded up.
``The families of those who died this morning are in my thoughts and prayers today, as I know they are in the thoughts of all Baltimore citizens,'' Mayor Sheila Dixon said in a statement.
Measuring strictly by the number of fatalities, the fire was the worst in the city since the October 2002 blaze that killed a couple and their five children. A small-time drug dealer was accused of firebombing the home in retaliation for the residents' repeated calls to police.