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Clothes that were being hung to dry above a gas stove are being blamed for a Gerhardt Street house fire that left three adults and two children homeless, Buffalo fire investigators said.

Fire Marshal James O'Neill said the fire started in the lower apartment of 7 Gerhardt at 12:20 a.m. Tuesday and quickly spread throughout the two-family home.

A mother and her 7-year-old daughter lived in the lower apartment, while a man, a woman and a 10-year-old boy occupied the upper apartment of the 2 1/2 -story house.

O'Neill said the woman in the lower apartment had no electricity and hung her clothes to dry above the kitchen stove after hand-washing them about 11 p.m. Fire investigators said the woman fell asleep, awoke to thick smoke and an activated smoke detector, and alerted the four other occupants, who escaped from the home.

"She was using the gas stove as a source of heat to dry clothing, and the clothes must have fallen," O'Neill said. "It's totally unsafe and extremely dangerous to use a stove to dry clothing or as a source of heat."

Firefighters extinguished the blaze, and damage was estimated by officials at $40,000 to the building and $20,000 to the contents.

At the scene, paramedics treated one of the children for an asthma attack.

An emergency demolition has been ordered.

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