MUSCATINE — Nelson Cruz remembers smelling smoke from a fire outside Monday evening. Minutes later, police were knocking on his door and helping him evacuate his four kids from their home.
Cruz lives next door to the house at 104 Clinton St. in Muscatine that quickly was engulfed in flames at 6:39 p.m. Three people died in the fire. A fourth was injured.
Until Monday, only one other person had died in a fire in Iowa so far this year, according to online data from the State Fire Marshal’s Division. A 59-year-old man was killed Jan. 8 fire in a Council Bluffs apartment fire. Authorities did not know if smoke detectors there were working.
Cruz said the family who lived in the Muscatine home were “very peaceful people” who kept to “themselves and to their kids.”
“The mother actually sat there (on the stoop in front of) that door and waited for the daughter on a daily basis as she was dropped off from school,” he said, pointing to front of the burned house. “Just a very loving family. Nice people.”
When he heard of the three fatalities, Cruz said, “it was horrible because it’s people you saw daily. You saw the girl playing out here sometimes with the mom.”
Cruz said he saw the father being dragged out of the house. “You see the tracks right there,” he said pointing nearby to the snow. “I didn’t see anybody else come out.”
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A release from the Muscatine Fire Department said the house likely is a total loss. The structure and belongings are estimated at more than an $80,000 loss.
One firefighter suffered a minor injury but did not require medical attention.
The names of the deceased were being withheld pending confirmation of the identities by the Muscatine County medical examiner. Autopsies will be performed at the University of Iowa.
The cause of the fire remains classified as undetermined, according to a release from the city. There were smoke alarms, but it is unknown if they were working.
About 30 firefighters responded to the fire, including some who were off duty.