Man's wife, daughters killed in fire: 'I tried to go back inside'

TUCKER, GA (CBS46)  - A Gwinnett County husband and father shared his grief Wednesday, hours after his wife and two daughters died in a house fire at their home just north of the city of Tucker.

Firefighters responded to Pointer Ridge in the Hunter's Walk subdivision at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and found Brent Patterson in the front yard screaming that his wife and daughters were trapped upstairs.

The fire was so intense, firefighters were forced to fight it from the outside, said Gwinnett County Fire Department Captain Tommy Rutledge. Eventually, firefighters found the bodies of the Kathy Patterson and her two children, Kayla, 12, and Madelyn, 9.

Brent Patterson, the sole survivor, returned to the scene Wednesday morning, still without shoes and wearing no jacket in 27 degree weather.

“Oh, they were the most incredible family ever," said Patterson as he fought back tears.

Firefighters rushed over, giving him a jacket. Friends and neighbors scrambled to find him a pair of shoes to wear.

Patterson told CBS46 he and his wife and daughters had been upstairs getting ready for bed when he heard a strange popping sound.

“I came downstairs. I opened the door because I heard something," he said, "and it kind of just… I don’t know if it was an explosion. I don’t know what happened.” 

It's possible, firefighters said, that when Patterson opened the door, it fueled the flames even further. Smoke and flames forced him outside, he said.

“I tried to go back inside and I couldn’t because it was too hot, and it was burning me," said Patterson. "So then my neighbor George tried to help. We tried beating in the back glass."

Other neighbors heard sirens and ran outside. Robert Vazquez said he saw the flames, and then he saw Brent Patterson in the front yard. He had dropped to the ground.

"He was yelling and screaming, saying his wife and two daughters were in there," said Vazquez.

"This was his life," said another neighbor. "His wife is gone. His daughters are gone. His home is gone. He doesn't have any family in the area."

Brent Patterson suffered minor injuries but declined to go to the hospital, firefighters and neighbors said.

“They were my life, they’re my whole life," Patterson said.

Authorities say it's a tragic reminder to make sure your smoke detectors are working properly and to make sure your family has an escape plan in case of an emergency.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the victims during this difficult time.  This a tragic incident and serves as a reminder of the importance of following proper fire prevention and safety tips at home. Install working smoke alarms on every level of the home, in the hallway outside the sleeping area and in each of the bedrooms. Develop a home fire escape plan and practice fire drills with the entire family. Check for and eliminate home hazards that could cause a fire to start. Keep a portable fire extinguisher close at hand to douse small fires," said Rutledge in a news release.

The bodies of all three victims have been turned over to the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s Office. The medical examiner will determine positive identification and cause of death. 

Patterson told firefighters there had been a fire burning in the fireplace the night before. 

However, investigators said the fire started in the area of an electric reclining couch in the living room, but cannot say for certain it was the cause of the fire. They said there are other components in the room that could have sparked the fire. 

Investigators said the fire quickly extended to the second floor via a heat return vent and a mechanical/HVAC closet and burn patterns and witness accounts match their findings.

According to fire Investigators, the exact cause of the fire is currently undetermined and is under active investigation by the fire department. No foul play is suspected.

Firefighters also found the family dog deceased inside the home. Firefighters buried the dog in the backyard as a show of respect due to the overwhelming loss sustained by the family. 

A prayer service was held at Tucker First United Methodist Church, where friends said Kathy and the girls were involved. 

“Just full of life and the little girls were so precious and gave hugs to people that came into the sanctuary before Sunday services," said Laurie Golding. “Lovely little children, very happy.”

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