NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A young teenager saved her little sister’s life in an overnight house fire that killed their parents and three siblings, a Tennessee sheriff said Friday.
The fire was reported before midnight Thursday in Buchanan, along the Kentucky state line about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Nashville. At a news conference, Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew identified the girls as 13-year-old Lilly Pollack and 8-year-old Rose Pollack.
Lilly woke up coughing in her bed in a smoky room and was able to get outside, said her family pastor, Randy Stephens of Sulphur Well Church of Christ. Lily then heard someone calling from inside the home, so she stepped in, got Rose out and they ran to their grandmother’s house next door and called 911, the sheriff said.
“We are calling both of those individuals heroes,” Belew said.
Lilly tried to rescue the rest of her family, but couldn’t get back inside again because of the intense flames.
Paris Landing Volunteer Fire Department Chief Reggie Coles said the home was already two-thirds engulfed when firefighters arrived. The victims were likely already deceased, he said, and firefighters couldn’t get into the house because of the raging fire. Afterward, officials couldn’t find any smoke detectors in the charred home.
Coles called it the “worst tragedy I’ve ever seen in my 40 years in the fire service.”
Belew said parents Jimmy Pollack and Carrie Pollack, and their children, 14-year-old Jimmy Dale Pollack Jr.; 3-year-old Callie Pollack; and 4-year-old Ivy Pollack died in the fire.
Rose had minor burns to the neck, face and arms and was taken to the hospital, Belew said.
Officials don’t view the fire as suspicious. They are still investigating the cause, which could be faulty wiring or a wood stove.
Stephens, who has talked with Lilly after the fire, said she’s an “outstanding young lady” who is going to be OK, even though she’ll struggle with the loss of her family.
“She’s still in shock, very much so, I think,” Stephens said. “And she’s just doing what she feels like she has to do to help grandmother, and also to try to get ready for her little sister to come home.”
Lilly and Rose will be living with their grandmother. The sheriff’s office set up a donation account in the grandmother’s name at a local bank.
“We’re a small rural, west Tennessee county, and that’s kind of what we do, is we help each other,” Belew said. “It’s a tough day in Henry County. I can’t think of any time that we’ve lost five Henry Countians in such a tragic event.”
But it could’ve been a completely different story if the family had smoke detectors, the sheriff said.
“There’s some things that we need to just take care of,” Belew said.
An earlier version of the story incorrectly said the fire was reported early Friday. It was actually reported late Thursday.