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Neighbors felt helpless as children, grandparents can’t escape Chesterfield house fire

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY,  Va. -- The investigation into what caused a fire that claimed the lives of five members of one Chesterfield family remained under investigation Monday afternoon. Chesterfield Fire and EMS spokesman Lt. Jason Elmore said the initial investigation concluded Sunday morning's fire on Wicklow Lane was accidental in nature and appeared to have started in the garage.

Among the victims, according to the Chesterfield County Fire Department  is Richard Hudson, 74, Margaret Hudson, 76, Margaret Hunt, 44, Madison Hunt, 3, and Colton Elsner, 1.

Three-year-old Madison Hunt and one-year-old Colton Elsner were brother and sister.

Their grandmother Marg Hunt was also killed in the fire, as were Marg's parents 76-year-old Margaret Hudson and 74-year-old Dick Hudson.

The Medical Examiner’s office is still working to determine an exact cause of death.  The children's mother Katie Hunt, along with her five year old daughter Caroline, her brother Ritchie Hunt and their significant others, were able to escape the fire.  Monday night, Caroline was still being treated at VCU Medical Center for smoke inhalation.  She is expected to make a full recovery.

"We met Katie in the road and the first thing she said was my babies my babies," neighbor Beth Brown said. "That was the helplessness feeling, knowing there were people in the house and it took awhile to get them out."

The five fatalities made the fire the deadliest in recent county history. The loss of life so great, the Chesterfield Fire Department activated its peer support team to help firefighters deal with the trauma.

"We’re trained to save people and when we’re not able to do that sometimes we can feel like we failed at our job," Elmore said.

None of the survivors reported hearing a smoke alarm, Elmore said.

Richie Hunt, who escaped the fire that killed his mother, grandparents, niece and nephew, credited a neighbor who altered him to the fire.

"My neighbor Mr. Brown came and shook me and Madison awake about three [in the] morning," Richie Hunt. "[He] said there was a fire in the house and so me and Madison jumped out of the basement window."

Jerry Brown said the fire was too intense to attempt a rescue.

"We opened the front door and it was just the heat," he said. "When we opened the door the fixtures in the house the glass shattered and just fell to the ground. Smoke had filled the room so much it was only a low clearing you could see right at the bottom so you couldn’t, you’d have to crawl to get in."

In the hours after the fire, the community has come together to raise money and collect clothes for the survivors.

“At this point there is nothing we can do to bring them back our main goal is to just do what we can to support them,” said neighbor Beth Brown.

Donations can be dropped off at the Winfree Memorial Baptist Church in Midlothian, the Browns place of worship.

The church has received food clothing, appliances, and toys for the five year surviving child- Caroline.

So far, Pastor David Benjamin says the church has delivered two truckloads for the family.

"You feel so helpless, it's just an unbelievable, unspeakable, deep tragedy in their life and if you want to do something to help, these are some practical ways to help," Brown said.

"When the community needs something, our bible study and church group gets together and does for the community. I just knew I had to do something," Susan King, who donated to the fire victims, said. "We just pulled out all the extras and things that hadn’t been opened and said there’s someone in need we need to give."

The American Red Cross is assisting the family. ​