A Philadelphia mother, her boyfriend and three of their children are among the victims of a massive fire in Massachusetts.
Ellen Vuong, 33, was among seven people killed in the early morning blaze that broke out around 4 a.m. on Thursday at a Lowell, Mass. apartment building, officials said.
The fire also claimed the lives of Vuong's boyfriend, Torn Sak, and their 7-year-old daughter, Sayuri, and 9-and 12-year-old sons. Family members said Sayuri just celebrated her birthday on July 4.
The couple's two other boys managed to escape, family members said.
"My mom's broken right now. Everybody in my family is broken right now," said Torn's brother Theran Sak. "He was a good father."
Both Vuong and Sak moved to from Philadelphia to Lowell about 10 years ago, family members said. They still have family in our region.
In addition to the family, a 36-year-old woman and 76-year-old man were killed, officials said. Ten people were hospitalized.
"I woke up to screams. To a child saying 'Help me. Help me.' And then I ran to the window. I saw that... I looked outside. I saw that it was a child hanging from the window. And the parents were holding them. And then they dropped the child to save the child. I'm not sure if the child survived the fall," said witness Chandara Chun.
The 9-unit apartment building, located along Branch Street in the Northern Massachusetts city's Little Cambodia neighborhood, was built in 1890 and made of mostly wood. Officials said the building, which was home to nearly 60 people, did not have a sprinkler system as one was not required. However, there are questions as to whether the building's fire alarms sounded.
Fire officials said they only learned of the fire after a police officer on patrol happened upon the blaze. Firefighters made 13 visits to the building in the past two years. Of those calls, 12 were because of fire alarm issues, officials told our Boston affiliate WHDH. The most recent call, on July 3, was for fireworks being set off in a hallway.
Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliott says the investigation is focusing on a large amount of fireworks that were stored in Sak's apartment. It is illegal for individuals to own fireworks in the state.
"There's been a growing problem with fireworks and fireworks use in the city," the mayor said. He added that the city recently passed an ordinance regarding the incendiary devices.
PHOTO: Ellen Vuong and her boyfriend Torn Sak, both from Philadelphia, were killed in the fire along with three of their children (Family photo).
Lowell's Fire Marshall said they are looking at every possible cause for the blaze which is being called Massachusetts' deadliest in 20 years.
Theran Sak, Torn's brother, said he didn't believe the fireworks played a role in sparking the fire, but that they could have fueled the flames.
"It just happened, the house caught on fire and I'm sure that it made the fire even worse," he said.
Lowell is about 30 miles northwest of Boston and 310 miles northeast of Philadelphia.