Cause unclear in Old Louisville blaze that killed 2

RAW: Fire chief's briefing on deadly fire in Old Louisville
At least one person was scene being rescued from the second floor. (Source: Rick Miller, WAVE 3 News)
At least one person was scene being rescued from the second floor. (Source: Rick Miller, WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Two people have died, and five more, including a firefighter, had to be treated at hospitals after a fire broke out in a three-story apartment building in the 1100-block of South 2nd Street just before 8 a.m. Thursday.

First sight told neighbor Arthur Crowe that anybody caught inside was in trouble.

"Flames shot up, I'd say, about 15-20 feet up in the air," Crowe said. "A black bloom of smoke just shootin' up, like right in the middle. But it just went up so quick. Like right in the middle. But it just went up so quick."

[IMAGES: Multiple fatalities in Old Louisville blaze]

Firefighters were at the scene in four minutes.

"It was fast-moving," Louisville Fire Chief Greg Frederick said. "And the rescues sort of a distraction from the firefighting tactics, so we had to wait until we had people out of the building to really start focusing on the fire."

A firefighter was attempting a rescue when he got caught on a landing, as parts of the roof gave way.

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"We've had a collapse inside, we've had a collapse outside of the roof portion, we've had collapse of the entire porch roof," Frederick said.

The home had fire escape ladders on the second or third floors; neither was used. Firefighters were unsure whether the ladders had been locked or residents couldn't get to them. Or didn't try. But a zoom lens showed chains wrapped around rungs of both ladders.

The home's conversion to apartments created pockets of hot-spots, and complicated the search for victims, firefighters said.

"Thank God, we got out, " next-door neighbor Pat Giles said. "And my grandson, my grandson ..." With that, she burst into tears.

Firefighters had evacuated her building as flames spread. Thursday afternoon, she and her dog sat in her wheelchair, wondering when investigators would give the "all-clear."

Michael Jones had lived with his father Philip, on the first floor of the home that burned. He'd left several months ago, but after he confirmed his father was OK, firefighters asked him to confirm a victim's identity.

"It was face down, but the way that woman was built, she was very, very heavy-set," Jones said. "Very short."

He couldn't say with certainty that the body was that of his neighbor. The Jefferson County coroner hasn't released the victims' names.

"We do have arson (investigators) on the scene," Frederick said. "We don't have a cause yet."

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has joined the investigation.

Meanwhile, Jones said he suspects an altercation between one of his neighbors and a former boyfriend Wednesday may have had something to do with the blaze. The former boyfriend, he said, was ordered to leave.

"A lot of people caught what was going on around here and got out," he said. "People in the building in the middle of the night weren't expecting it."

Firefighters would not confirm whether their investigation includes "persons of interest."

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