BERRY — Snow brushed the smoldering, blackened debris Monday at the Harrison County home where four people, including two children, died in a fire Sunday.
Nails and broken glass could be seen amid the ashes. But much of the rubble was largely unidentifiable with the exception of a few objects, including pots and pans, scattered bricks from the remains of a chimney and a mangled kerosene heater.
Kevin Tucker said his nephew Charlie Tucker, one of the victims, had been using a kerosene heater in the house. The heater was having some problems, so Kevin Tucker offered one of his heaters to Charlie Tucker. He never took it.
"I'd preached to him about that heater," Kevin Tucker recalled Monday.
Charlie Tucker, 31; his cousin Nikki Pike, 27; and two of her sons, Cameron Pike, 6, and Nicholas Pike, 3, were killed in the blaze. Each of the boys is survived by a twin.
Berry Fire Chief Orla Whitaker said the fire probably was caused by a kerosene heater in one of the downstairs bedrooms. Whitaker did not know whether the house had working smoke detectors.
The fire on North First Street, which was reported about 3 a.m. Sunday, was the second fatal fire in Central Kentucky in three days. On Friday, Ronnie Jo Graham, 3, and Lidia Graham, 7, died in a fire at a house in Woodford County. Two other children were able to escape. The cause of that fire is still under investigation. Their mother, Amber Graham, said the source is thought to be electrical.
The two fires, separated by a few days, resulted in six deaths. Fire officials say such tragedies often can be prevented.
Heating equipment, primarily space heaters and fireplaces, caused an estimated 66,100 house fires resulting in 480 deaths in 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Each winter, residential fires result in more than 900 deaths in the United States, the association said.
Kentucky Fire Marshal William Swope Jr. said such tragedies are "sickening" and "deflating."
They can happen to anyone, he said, but "a lot of times the attitude persists: 'It'll never happen to me.'"
"But fire trucks respond to structure fires about every 33 seconds across the United States, which means that it happens somewhere, and it could very easily happen to you or me," Swope said. "We just have to slow down and take the time to identify those dangers and put preventive measures to protect us as best we can."
After Sunday's fire started, Kevin Tucker said he ran in his stocking feet from his home three doors down, looking frantically for Nikki Pike's van. "I was praying to God that they weren't there," he said of the family.
When he saw the parked van, he knew the family was inside. The two-story house fell in just as he arrived.
Two of Pike's four children — Martha, 3, and Martin, 6, the twin siblings of Nicholas and Cameron — were staying with their grandparents Karen and Harold Pike that night.
On Saturday afternoon, Nikki Pike left the children at her parents' home while she and Charlie Tucker went to get a Christmas tree. When they returned, the group ate food from Snappy Tomato Pizza. When it was time to go home, Martha, Nicholas' twin, wanted to stay with her grandfather. Martin also wanted to say; he had become attached to his grandmother while his twin, Cameron, was in and out of the hospital as a baby for respiratory distress.
So Nikki Pike left with two of her children and went home to watch movies with Charlie Tucker and the kids.
Nikki Pike's family had to break the news about the deaths to Martha and Martin, but "they ain't really old enough to understand what's going on," Kevin Tucker said.
Karen Pike said she explained the situation to Martin on Sunday morning and then talked with Martha after she got up later.
The children's moods were "off and on," Pike recalled. Martha was crying more than usual, she said. "They have questions," Pike said.
The two children probably will stay with her, Pike said..
Charlie Tucker is survived by three children: Jeremiah Tucker, 10; Laura Tucker, 6; and Noah Tucker, 2. Tucker's wife, Jamaca Tucker of Owenton, said she was separated from her husband.
Nikki Pike, whose full name was Virginia Nicole Pike, graduated from Harrison County High School and home-schooled her children.
Karen Pike said Charlie Tucker was like a son to her. His mother wasn't in the picture while he was growing up; his grandmother, who lived nearby, was his legal guardian.
Charlie Tucker attended Harrison County High School, where he was on the wrestling team. He later received a General Educational Development certificate, relatives said.
Kevin Tucker said Charlie Tucker, who worked as a carpenter, was the type of person who would stop and help someone stranded on the side of the road or give someone his last $10.
Funeral arrangements for Tucker and the Pikes are incomplete.