Seven Jefferson City children from two households lost their homes, and some lost their Christmas presents, when a fire destroyed a two-apartment building at 804 Broadway St. Monday afternoon.
Ariyah McCann was getting dressed when she noticed something was awry. Her 10-month-old son was asleep in her room and she'd just asked her two small daughters - both under the age of 5 - to come into her room to get dressed when she smelled smoke drifting from somewhere in the building.
"I didn't see any," she said.
But moments later a hallway in the building was fully engulfed in dark, black smoke. She wrapped her naked son in a blanket with the idea of quickly getting the kids down the back stairs and out of the building.
A neighbor - a man yet to be identified - had noticed the blaze and offered to help.
"Are there any more kids?" he asked, taking the 10-month old from her.
McCann - who is six months pregnant - tried to carry out the family's clothes and coats, but started to panic.
"Smoke started getting very heavy and I had to get out," she said. "We lost all their presents and everything. It's hard. So hard."
She was driven to a local hospital to be examined for smoke inhalation.
The two-story building - a chiseled-block gray structure with tall front columns and a metal seamed roof - was home to two families.
Originally from Chicago, McCann and her children lived in an upstairs apartment that sustained smoke and water damage. American Red Cross Heart of Missouri Chapter volunteers have assisted her with a clothing allowance and a one-night stay in a local motel.
Another family, originally from St. Louis, with three adults and four children - ages 1, 3, 5 and 7 - lived downstairs. Because that apartment suffered major damage making it uninhabitable, the Red Cross has offered financial assistance to purchase food, clothing, shoes and two nights in a motel.
A cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but it might have started in a first-floor bedroom.
"We're investigating to determine a point of origin and a cause," said Lonnie Brandt, assistant chief with the Jefferson City Fire Department.
Fire personnel were summoned to fight the blaze at 12:44 p.m. Brandt noted they arrived at 12:50 p.m.
"Heavy smoke and flames were showing," he said. "The first truck to arrive extinguished the fire on the first floor."
The fire made a dramatic scene. As wisps of smoke drifted ominously from the roofline, a long line of fire apparatus blocked the street and neighbors were outdoors lamenting the loss. By 1:16 p.m. firefighters had doused the main blaze and were spraying hot spots and chopping out hidden embers.
The contents of the building appeared to be an almost total loss, although McCann's mother and sister re-entered the structure as fire personnel were wrapping up their work to see what they could salvage. Her children did not even have shoes.
The building is owned by Jefferson City resident Nora Conrad, an older woman who purchased it as a rental investment about five years ago to replace another property that also burned.
After surveying the damage, Conrad said: "The structure is too weak now ... it was totalled. We're going to demolish it."
Conrad was disheartened to see the loss.
"I want to know what started the fire," she added.
Charlene Bates, a friend of McCann's family, said the loss of the home is a tragedy. She noted McCann, after going through a rough patch, had just moved into the apartment about three weeks ago and was delighted to have it.
"It's so sad. She just did all her Christmas shopping and now it's all gone," Bates lamented.