Three confirmed dead in Ringling house fire

Ringling_Three people died in their beds in a house fire in Ringling early Monday morning.  The victims have been identified as two teenaged sisters and their cousin.  Firefighters say they got the call just after four in the morning, and when they arrived, the girls' mother told them that people were still inside.  However, firefighters said that the heat and flames were so intense they were unable to immediately enter the home.  It took 45 minutes to extinguish the fire - then, they discovered the kids' bodies.

Neighbor Terri Blackwell says she saw bright flames coming from the house, and that the heat alone was so intense it melted the blinds inside her home.  Another neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous, reported seeing blue flames coming from the house.  The charred house, smoldering flames, and yellow tape is all that remains after the fire next to Blackwell's home.  "I've never been woke up like that in the middle of the night - with someone banging on the side of the wall - and that's what woke me up," she said.

When Blackwell and her husband ran outside, the fire already had engulfed the home next door, and the heat had melted their bathroom blinds.  "It was the brightest orange you've ever seen, and it was glowing so bright you could feel it on your body," she said.  Blackwell says that once she was outside she remembered the young girls still inside.  "I hollered at Randy and said, 'Are they in there?' and he said, 'Yeah, they're in there.'"

Fire Marshal Judah Sheppard says he found the bodies of the two teenaged sisters and their mother's cousin still in their beds.  "The two young girls, they were 13 and 15-year-old girls," he said.  "They were found together in the bedroom where their mother said they should have been, and we found the older male - the cousin of the mom that survived.  It appears he was trying to get out at the time."

It is unclear how the fire started, but there were multiple space-heaters, along with the electric stove, being used for heat.  "They were trying to stay warm over the winter," said Sheppard.  "It was pretty cold last night, and they were using a kitchen stove as a heat source, and it may have overloaded the system."

The mother was not injured in the fire, and claims that she was home at the time of the fire.  Authorities say there still are unanswered questions.  "This was going to be their first day back in school, and she had been up in the wee hours," said Sheppard.  "It does seem strange being up at four, but she was trying to get the clothes they had picked out ready for school."

Neighbors also say they heard a series of explosions - one of which shook the ground.  Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the explosions.  There was another fire in Ringling at a shed that happened at about two on Monday morning, and fire officials are investigating whether the two may have been connected.

Count on 7News to keep you updated.