Young boy killed in Eagle River house fire

Three children injured as baby sitters leapt out of window to find help

Posted: Monday, January 08, 2007

EAGLE RIVER - A 4-year-old boy died and three other children were seriously injured in a house fire in which the children's baby sitters jumped from a second-story window to get help.

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Matthew Leighton, 4, died in the fire Saturday, family members said. The other victims were between the ages of 2 and 4 and were either cousins or Matthew's siblings.

All three of those injured, who suffered from burns and smoke inhalation, were rushed to Anchorage hospitals and all were to be flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The blaze gutted portions of the purple home owned by Ted Dirkes, grandfather of the children.

Dirkes' 14-year-old daughter, Sarah, was watching the children with a friend of hers, who is about the same age. A teenage boy also was asleep in the house when the fire began and escaped out a door, officials said

The blaze was reported to the Anchorage Fire Department about 1:30 p.m., said Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton. Fire investigators have not yet determined what caused the blaze, which they initially believed began in the living room.

After the girls saw flames, they leapt out a window into the snow, said Sgt. Ken McCoy of the Anchorage Police Department.

The baby sitters ran to a house next door and got the attention of neighbor Sandra King. King said Sarah called 911 from her house.

In the meantime, a woman flagged a passing vehicle for help, Kempton said. Two men in the vehicle jumped out and smashed windows to try to rescue the trapped children but were pushed back by thick smoke.

Moments later, firefighters arrived and swarmed into the burning house to rescue the children, all on the second floor. Neighbors saw firefighters emerge seconds later shielding the youngsters with their coats and cradling them in their arms.

The fire was brought under control in about 45 minutes, Kempton said.

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