Fires 2 days apart claimed 6 lives a year ago this week

(Photo by Alex Cano)
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(KWTX) When Seth Hines left his Nolanville home for school a year ago Thursday he never dreamed in just a few hours his grandmother, his mother and his sister all would die in a house fire.

And as the Nolanville community tried to deal with that, just two days later on Jan. 26, 2018, three children ages 6, 5 and 3 died in a house fire in Killeen.

“That was unfortunate, a really bad deal,” Bell County Fire Marshal Steve Casey, who investigated the fire, said.

Sherry Hines, 85, her daughter Denise Hines, 46, and her granddaughter Skylar Hines-Little, 19, all were found inside the Hines home after Nolanville firefighters were sent there in response to a report of smoke coming from the house.

Seth Hines, Denise Hines’ son then 16-years-old, was at school when the fire broke out.

Two days later, on Jan. 26, 2018, the house fire in Killeen claimed the lives of Chasity Armstrong, 6 Khalia Armstrong, 5, and Tristan Armstrong, 3.

Killeen firefighters, sent to 3101 Jason Cove at around 3:30 a.m. that morning, found the three girls in their bedrooms, apparently unable to escape the blaze.

Casey and investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office spent that Thursday and part of the day Friday combing through the rubble of house that burned in Nolanville.

“The fire started in the garage where we found an old refrigerator was left on and somehow malfunctioned,” Casey said.

The fire spread to the house, in the kitchen, and “that cut off their only way to escape,” Casey said.

Casey added the initial call for help came from within the home, but was cut off.

The two-story wood-frame home already was engulfed in flames when the first crews arrived.

The second fire, on Jason Cove in Killeen, erupted from a pot left heating on a stovetop, Killeen Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal James Chism confirmed.

The three girl died of smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, according to a preliminary autopsy report, Chism said.

“The three children were in their bedrooms and were not able to escape,” Chism said.

When the first crews arrived on scene flames were coming out of the roof of the one-story home.

A man and a woman were able to escape from the burning house through windows, Chism said.

A second man was in the house as well, but left at the time or immediately before the fire started, Chism said.

The woman, whom a relative identified as the mother of the children, Audrey Armstrong, was taken to a local hospital.

The man, identified as Cory Harrington, was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene.

Harrington said he lived in the house with his nephew and his nephew's fiancee.

His nephew wasn't home at the time of the fire, he said.

Mechelle Snider, who lives next door, woke up early that morning to a banging on her door, where she found the mother of the three children, covered in blood and asking for help to rescue them.

The mother jumped out of a window to escape and later was taken to Metroplex Hospital in Killeen with non-life threatening injuries.

"We tried to get the babies, but we couldn’t," Snider said at the scene.

Two of the three girls attended Sugarloaf Elementary School and Killeen Superintendent John Craft said.

It all comes down to being prepared, Casey said.

“They didn’t have smoke detectors.

“If they’d have had a smoke detector in that house, they’d have had plenty of time to walk out the front door, but they didn’t,” Casey said.

The deadly Nolanville fire. (Photo by Alex Cano/file)
The victims of the Nolanville fire: (Left to right) Sherry Hines, 85, her daughter Denise Hines, 46, and her granddaughter Skylar Hines-Little, 19. (Funeral home photos)
The deadly fire in Killeen. (File)
The victims of the Killeen fire: (Left to right) Chastity Armstrong, 6, Khalia Armstrong, 5, and Tristan Armstrong, 3. (Courtesy photo)