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Man, 4 children die; mother survives fire

A mother could only watch in agony as her four young children and a man were killed by an intense apartment fire that broke out a few hours into the new year, her neighbors in the apartment complex said Saturday.

Neighbor Jared Wilson said the 30-year-old woman was able to escape the two-bedroom ground-floor apartment and stood outside as heavy smoke and flames engulfed her home. All four children were 10 or younger, fire officials said.

"She couldn't speak -- she was just hysterically screaming," said Wilson, 27, who lives on the building's third floor.

A 32-year-old man in the same apartment also died, said police spokesman Officer Matt Peringer. The woman was taken to a hospital where she was reported in stable condition, said Fire Battalion Chief Ed Carolan.

The names of the victims and the relationship between the man and woman were not immediately available. No other injuries were reported and the residents of all 12 apartments in the three-story wooden building were evacuated and found temporary housing.

By midday, police and fire officials were still trying to determine if the structure was stable enough to allow investigators inside to look for a possible cause, Peringer said.

Chris Champoux and his wife were sleeping in their apartment in the building across a driveway from the units that burned.

"The heat actually woke my wife up," he said.

Crews from six fire departments responded, and investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Washington State Patrol and a Seattle Fire Department canine arson detection unit were at the scene.

Wilson said only about 30 seconds elapsed from the time he first heard shouting until his apartment was surrounded by heavy smoke and he was forced to flee. As he ran down the stairwell, he saw the woman, whose children he had often seen playing, screaming outside the building.

Wilson said he and another resident grabbed a fire extinguisher and the two tried to enter the smoke-filled apartment. "At that point, the whole place just went up" and they were forced away by the flames.