By TIMOTHY R. BROWN, AP
YAZOO CITY, Miss. (Oct. 6) - A fire roared through a single-story house early Monday, killing five of six young children who were left home alone while their mothers were out at a nightclub, authorities said. The two mothers were charged with manslaughter.
The children ranged in age from 1 1/2 to 10, County Coroner Ricky Shivers said. A 9-year-old boy was rescued after trying to punch out a window to escape the flames.
The cause of the blaze was not immediately known.
Police Chief Mike Wallace said Clara Bell and Eugenia Bell were each charged with five counts of negligent manslaughter and one count of felony child neglect.
Wallace said that while the investigation continued, ''all indications are that the two were at a local nightclub.'' The women were jailed on $250,000 bail each.
The fire broke out shortly after midnight, gutting the wood-frame house and shooting flames and thick, black smoke into the sky.
Neighbors discovered the burning home and saw the 9-year-old boy trying to escape. A woman smashed the window with a chair, according to witness Christopher Burnett.
''The kid was just there, right there at the window, so we just pulled him out,'' said the woman, Cynthia Brown, 26. She said another man, 19-year-old Antowain Johnson, ''tried to go back in and get the rest of them but the smoke wouldn't let him.''
Officials said the boy, Alfred Bell, was taken to a Jackson hospital but was not believed to be seriously injured.
Shivers initially released the names of the dead at the scene and later revised the spellings after checking records. He identified them as Devunte Bell, 10; Takiesha Bell, 3; William Bell, 1 1/2; Kayla Williams, 7; and Tytianna Bell, 4.
Katie Bell, the children's grandmother, said Eugenia Bell had come to her home and told her, ''My baby is dead'' and confirmed that neither she nor her sister had been home when the fire started. No other adults were in the home when the fire broke out, officials said.
Dorothy Bell, another relative, said Clara Bell was the mother of five of the children, including the survivor, and Eugenia Bell was the mother of the fifth victim.
Alfred Williams Sr., father of the child who survived, said Clara Bell told him that she was going to the nightclub and the children would have a baby sitter. ''I don't think she's (Clara Bell) ever going to get out of this,'' he said.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services said it had conducted an investigation into the welfare of one of the victims prior to the fire.
The women could face a maximum 20-year sentence on each manslaughter charge and one year in prison on the neglect charge if they are convicted.
Dorothy Bell said both women and their children had recently moved into the house, which belonged to the mothers' grandfather. Dorothy Bell said she had not talked with the women since the fire, and ''I don't want to talk to them. I've heard they weren't there. Those were innocent kids and now they are gone. Our family is really tore up.''
Brown said the children often came over to her house to play. She said at times the children were left unsupervised on weekends.
''I think that was real wrong,'' she said.
Yazoo City, a town of about 14,500, is 40 miles north of Jackson.
The fire happened days before a woman from nearby Tchula is to stand trial for manslaughter in the deaths of six children a year ago. Authorities said those children were left alone while their mother went to a nightclub.