Six children die in house fire after rescuers can't get through thick clouds of smoke

Monday, August 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ Six children died in a house fire Sunday after people who tried to rescue them couldn't make their way through thick clouds of smoke.

Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesman Robert Combs said an overloaded extension cord sparked the blaze at about 10 a.m. The fire swallowed the house within minutes, he said.

At the time, the children and two of their siblings were under the care of their grandmother, Mattie Norman. Their mother and three other siblings were at a wedding.

Mattie Norman escaped the blaze with two of her grandchildren.

``She did all she could to get back in,'' said Alvin Banks, 31, one of the first people to the scene. ``We had to hold her back or else it would have been her, too.''

Banks said he tried to save the children by kicking in the front door but that he was overcome by smoke.

About nine other bystanders smashed windows to try to rescue the children but couldn't get through the smoke, Banks said.

``There were 10 of us, and we couldn't do nothing,'' Banks said. ``The kids were screaming for their lives.''

Combs said that when firefighters arrived at 10:09 a.m., flames had swept through most of the home. He said two firefighters were injured with first-degree burns to the face.

``When there are kids involved, that adds to the devastation. It's natural to feel a little more attached to kids. The firefighters take it a little more personally,'' Combs said.

The victims were identified as: Kara Norman, 10; Chelsea Norman, 4; Jeremy Norman, 3; Shelby Norman, 2; and eight-month-old twins Kaleb Norman and Fleming Norman.

Neighbors said the 11 children lived in the single-story house with their mother, 32-year-old Vanessa Norman, and their grandparents.

In 2000, Vanessa Norman was arrested and booked with second-degree murder after her infant daughter died from malnutrition and dehydration.