Tragedy struck early Christmas morning when a quick-moving fire tore through an eastern Pennsylvania home, leaving a father and his two sons dead.
Authorities are investigating, but the preliminary investigation leads them to believe lights on a Christmas tree started the deadly fire around 1:20 a.m. Saturday.
The children's mother and the family's oldest son escaped the blaze. Two dogs also died in the fire in Quakertown.
Eric King, 41, died in the fire with his children Liam and Patrick, 11 and 8 respectively.
"We will be continuing to investigate to find out why it ignited, but the evidence is very clear that it started in the Christmas tree. It was a real tree," said Quakertown Police Chief Scott McElree. " ... It was such a hot fire that most of the content where it started is burnt."
Police say emergency officials attempted to enter the house but the fire kept them back.
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"A Christmas tree burns very quickly and very hot," McElree said of the intensity of the blaze that destroyed the home and the home next to it. The houses are twin-style and attached side-by-side. "When trees go dry, its a violent and robust source. There is an immense amount of heat and that probably contributed."
The chief said the wooden stick-frame construction also likely helped the fire move quickly, but said the fire wall between the homes did its job and likely accounted for the other family being able to escape without injury.
McElree said the Quakertown school district had been notified and is meeting with its crisis team to form a response to support the community and its students.
He called the King family well respected and involved in the borough.
"It's horrendous," he said. "This impacts us all. This impacts our community, our families in general, the kids in the schools and the people who know the King family. We're partners in this and we and the school district will do what we can to support everyone."
McElree said he would expect counseling to be offered, but the district would lead that effort.
"This news is devastating for the District community and the Quakertown area at large," the district said in a statement Saturday.
Data from the National Fire Protection Association says that from 2015-19, there was an average of 160 home fires started by a Christmas tree a year. From 2011-2015, fire departments responded to around 200 home fires a year caused by the trees.
Of those reported home fires, nearly half of them were caused by lighting or an electrical issue, 20% of which were decorative Christmas lights.
Nearly 20% of other fires were caused by a heat source, like a candle, being too close to the tree, and around 40% happened in living rooms.
Contributing: Jordan Mendoza, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Christmas tree likely fueled fatal house fire in Pennsylvania: police