A mother screamed ‘my babies, my babies!’ after jumping from a bedroom window to escape a fire which killed four of her five children.
All of the victims were eight and under. The fire followed a suspected gas boiler explosion at the three-bedroom terraced home.
The blaze tore through the house in the early hours of yesterday morning, claiming the lives of boys Riley Holt, eight, Keegan Unitt, six, and Olly Unitt, three, as well as their sister Tilly Rose Unitt, four.
Devastated fire crews and emergency services formed a guard of honour as two cars believed to be private ambulances carrying the deceased pulled away from the scene in the West Midlands.
The children’s mother Natalie Unitt, 24, father Chris Moulton, 28, and youngest brother Jack, two, were saved and taken to hospital, where they are expected to recover from the smoke inhalation and burns they suffered.
Friends of the family wept as they laid teddy bears and flowers near the scene of the devastating fire.
One neighbour told the Mirror: ‘I was in the bathroom and heard a woman outside shouting, “My babies, my babies”. Then I heard a huge bang.’
Ms Unitt’s former school friend, Sophie Flood, said the children were ‘her world’ and she didn’t know how she would cope without them.
Ms Flood, 26, told MailOnline: ‘Natalie was bullied at school. All she ever wanted in life was to be a mum and she lived for those kids. They were her whole world. Now she’s lost four of her babies she’ll be totally devastated. I don’t know how she’ll cope without them.’
Ms Flood, herself a mother-of-two added: ‘We heard she and Chris had jumped out of the window with the little one in his arms. What’s happened is absolutely horrendous and my heart bleeds for them. The three of them were lucky to get out alive. It’s a miracle they survived.’
Teachers from Castlechurch Primary and Marshlands Special School, which the children who died attended, tonight released touching tributes to each of them.
They said Riley, eight, had’ a great sense of humour and an infectious giggle’ while little Tilly, four, was described as ‘a friendly and caring child who loved to read stories, dress up and paint’.
Six-year-old Keegan’s teacher said he was ‘full of fun and mischief with a really endearing smile’. Three-year-old Olly meanwhile was said to love cuddles and being in his nursery’s ‘role play area’.
Neighbours of the family told of the horrific scenes they witnessed after the fire broke out last night.
Tearful neighbour Wendy Pickering , 58, said she heard the children’s screams as the flames moved through the upstairs bedrooms.
She said of the children: ‘They were very nice, all happy and go lucky, laughing and joking. One of boys would watch me from his window while I was with my dog and wave at me.
‘I just can’t believe some of the children have passed. The kids were cute as buttons and little tiny tots. It’s heartbreaking.’
Ms Unitt is said to have escaped the blaze and banged on the doors of neighbours to raise the alarm. The children’s father then jumped from a window with their youngest child in his arms, witnesses said.
Neighbours said the fire appears to have started in one of the children’s bedrooms before spreading to the rest of the house.
Neighbour Ms Pickering added: ‘We thought it was gas, we saw the windows of the parents room, the flames were going up the roof. I thought they’d all got out.’
Another neighbour, who asked to remain anonymous, added: ‘I’ve heard the dad jumped from the top window holding his child.
‘I guess you would do anything that you could, I can’t imagine the heartbreak they must be feeling at not being able to save the others.
‘There were several small explosions, which sounded like fireworks going off. The flames were pretty high at one point, they were coming out of the roof.’
Kylea Clinton, 39, of neighbouring Milton Grove, said: ‘I used to see the kids out and about. I’m absolutely speechless. In one night nearly the whole family is gone.’
Another resident added: ‘I was awoken by the sound of sirens and saw blue flashing lights illuminating the street.
‘I rushed out and you could see the flames straight away. The family haven’t been there that long, it must be about a year or so and they seemed very nice and friendly. It desperately tragic.’
Locals said one of the back bedrooms was ‘completely full of flames’ before a ‘sheet of fire came out of the bedroom window’.
One witness added: ‘A man and a woman got into an ambulance. They were in blankets and she had the little one in her arms. I’d assumed they had all got out. It’s terribly sad, almost beyond belief.’
Pictures from the scene show part of the building’s roof has collapsed and windows have been smashed.
A Staffordshire Police spokesman said: ‘At 2:40am this morning (Feb 5) police officers and colleagues from the fire and ambulance services attended a serious house fire in the Highfields area of Stafford.
‘A search at the property in Sycamore Lane is ongoing, but it is with great sadness we can confirm the deaths of four children at the property.
‘Two adults and another child are being treated in hospital. Their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.’
A spokeswoman for WMAS said: ‘When crews arrived they found an ongoing serious house fire. Three occupants, two adults and a child, had managed to get out of the property.
‘All three patients were assessed and treated on scene by ambulance staff for non-life threatening injuries before being taken to hospital for further care.
‘Tragically, four children from the property were confirmed dead on scene. Our thoughts are with the family at this exceptionally difficult time.’
Local residents reacted with horror after police announced the deaths.
One Facebook user wrote: ‘Devastating news, thoughts go out the the family and the emergency service staff who were dealing with it.’
Another wrote: ‘OMG what awful news to wake up to this morning. Absolutely devastated! I don’t think there’s anything anyone can say right now.
‘But please, let’s pull together as a community and do the best we can for all those affected. Bless them all.’