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‘They almost died trying to save them.’ Kentucky parents in surgery after fire kills toddlers

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An Eastern Kentucky couple whose 3-year-old twins died in a house fire Monday suffered burns to more than 70 percent of their bodies, according to family members.

Dennis Chad Howard, 39, and his wife, Allyson Howard, 42, have been transferred from a Tennessee hospital to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga., which is regarded as one of the top burn centers in the country, Allyson’s mother, Vicki Harris Blakley, said on social media.

Allyson’s body was 84 percent burned and Dennis’ was 72 percent burned. Both went into surgery Tuesday morning. Kentucky State Police described the injuries suffered by the couple as “life-threatening.”

Following the first surgery Tuesday morning, Harris Blakley told the Herald-Leader her daughter’s foot had to be amputated because of severe blood clots.

The parents will be in for a six-month recovery and both will need skin grafts, Harris Blakley said. She said the pain of losing their children will be worse than the physical pain.

“(Allyson) doesn’t know the twins didn’t make it,” Harris Blakley said. “What I’m so worried about will be her psychological recovery. It will so hard for them. That will be harder than the physical recovery.”

The twins were identified by family members as 3-year-old Alex and Olivia Howard. Their bodies were sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Frankfort for autopsies, state police said.

Funeral arrangements are still being planned for Alex and Olivia, their grandmother said. The funeral will be held at Anderson Laws and Jones Funeral Home in Harlan.

Harris Blakley said Olivia and Alex had progressed with speech therapy lessons and were going to begin school in the fall. She called them “sweet, sweet children.”

“Olivia was a very forgiving child. You could fuss or scold her and she would just look at you and hug you,” Harris Blakley said. “Alex was a man’s man. He loved all of the men in his life. And he loved Spider Man ... he was so crazy about anything with Spider Man.”

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Alex and Olivia Howard died following a house fire Monday in Harlan County. Vicki Harris Blakley

Their older brother, 16-year-old Ozzy, was not home at the time of the fire and is safe with family, Harris Blakely said. Allyson also has an adult daughter, Heather Holland, who has traveled down from Georgetown to be with her family.

Six Yorkie puppies the family had died in the fire, according to Harris Blakley. One cat survived, she added.

Chad is a postal worker for the United States Postal Service and Allyson is a homemaker, Harris Blakley said. She added that Allyson is likely in worse shape because she came out of the house last in her attempt to save the children.

“They loved them so much. They almost died trying to save them,” Harris Blakley said. “I’m almost surprised my daughter didn’t die trying to save them. She gave it everything she had to save them.”

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Allyson Howard (center) with her 3-year-old twins Alex and Olivia. Vicki Harris Blakley

One neighbor told WYMT the whole house exploded and another said they were concerned when they saw the fire had started.

The fire occurred around 11:18 a.m. Monday at the home in the Totz community, which is between Harlan and Cumberland. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“Heard some cracking sounds, turn around and see flames in the window”, Shawn Crow told WYMT. “And I was hoping that they were not home. I immediately dialed 911 on my cell phone. And as soon as I got on the phone with them, I saw the front door fling open and flames come out. He came running out with his hair on fire.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay for hospital costs. Nearly $2,000 had been raised in the first 16 hours. A separate fundraiser from With Love from Harlan has raised more than $4,500 in 13 hours.

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