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BLAST, FIRE KILL 4 IN HAMBURG

A Hamburg mother and three of her children -- including a 3-year-old boy -- died Thursday night in an explosion and fire that consumed their Niles Avenue home. The father and an older daughter escaped.

The blast ripped through the home of the James R. Carney family, authorities confirmed today, but they did not release the victims' first names at midmorning, pending notification of other relatives.

Authorities believe that an oxygen tank used by the 3-year-old boy, who had a medical condition, may have contributed to the explosion, along with what was believed to be a gas space heater.

"At this point, we believe the young child was on oxygen, and we believe that was ignited by the heater," Hamburg police Lt. Jim Koch said this morning. "We don't believe it was a kerosene heater."

Newton-Abbott Fire Chief Tom Partridge described the victims as the 3-year-old boy; two girls, ages 14 and 16; and their mother.

The father and an 18-year-old daughter escaped, Partridge said. The daughter was taken to Mercy Hospital, where she was said to be in stable condition. The father remained at the scene during the firefighting efforts, huddled in a blanket in a Hamburg town police car.

Neighbors identified the victims as Jimmy Jr., 3; Diane, 14; Patty, 16; and Waun, the mother. The father, James, and 18-year-old Terry escaped. A fifth child was not at home.

"I cannot believe this man is going to bury four members of his family," next-door neighbor Kim Gagliardi said today. "He doted on his little boy."

Gagliardi's mother heard a pop and thought it was a car backfiring. By the time Gagliardi rushed outside, the house was engulfed in flames.

In a midnight news conference, police and fire officials said the 1 1/2 -story frame house at 3556 Niles, just off Milestrip Road, was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived at 9:16 p.m.

Partridge said firefighters made several initial attempts to enter the house, but they were driven back by flames and smoke. Once the house was deemed safe to enter, efforts turned to searching for and recovering the victims.

Investigators from the Town of Hamburg and the Erie County Sheriff's Department continued to sift through the debris today to pinpoint the cause of the fire and explosion.

"It's not of a suspicious nature at this point," Partridge said.

Authorities said the boy's body was recovered by a firefighter who went through a front window. The body was in a first-floor room. The boy was pronounced dead in Mercy Hospital.

The bodies of the mother and one daughter were recovered on the second floor; the body of the second daughter was located in a stairway into which the second floor had collapsed.

Several of the volunteer firefighters who responded are acquainted with the family, according to Michael V. Walters, county commissioner of emergency services.

Partridge said: "Several members are a little shaken. They feel they're helpless because there was no way they could get in. When they are pushed back, they feel they are failing. They did everything possible for the family."

The blast and fire destroyed the house, leaving a gaping hole in the roof. The front of the house was boarded up today, as fire investigators continued their investigation.

Neighbors today said that Terry attends Erie Community College, while the two teenage girls who died attended Orchard Park schools. James Carney is described as a stay-at-home father who took care of his young son. It wasn't clear whether his wife still was working.

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