Police: Fatal fire sparked by children playing with lighter - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

NY police: Triple-fatal fire sparked by children playing with lighter

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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. -

A flag stands still on the porch of Christopher and Catherine Swiesz's home on Homestead Drive where a Fourth of July tragedy struck.

"Preliminary investigation has revealed that three juveniles, all of whom are under the age of 13, were in the attached garage and were playing with a lighter and accelerants," N.Y. State Police Maj. Richard Smith said.

Officials say the fire ignited the garage and the kids escaped without injury. Officials say the kids then alerted the eight other residents in the home to get out.

"The intensity of the fire and heat made it impossible for firefighters to get in the residence upon their arrival. At the time of arrival, three residents weren't accounted for," Smith said.

Five of the residents escaped safely. It took 45 minutes for seven responding fire departments to put out the fire and enter the home. That's where they retrieved three victims.

"One of the victims is positively identified as Walter Hotaling, age 67. The other victims have been tentatively identified as Betty Waddy, age 98, and Josephine Brusgal, age 87," Smith said.

The residence was a family-type home-- a program allowing homeowners to open a private business to house individuals with health issues. According to Clinton County Department of Social Services, the amount of room in a residence determines how many people can be housed.

"On an annual basis all the homes are inspected and we go out and look for compliance. Part of that is emergency evacuation procedures, as well as safety related issues and compliance issues," explained Rich Holcomb of the Clinton County Department of Social Services.

In this case, the Swiesz household was checked out in May of this year and passed all inspection tests, including emergency evacuation plans.

"I have been supervising for the past 12 years, and have never had an incident of this nature," Holcomb said. "It's truly a tragedy."

State Police say because the kids were under 13, they will not face charges.

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