By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - Authorities are investigating whether an explosion caused a fast-spreading house fire in Tennessee that killed three senior citizens and a neighbor who tried to save them.
"I've seen a lot of things that are bad, but here something happened real bad, real fast," said Macon County Fire Chief Keith Scruggs on Monday, his voice cracking.
Scruggs, a firefighter for 39 years, said he knew all four victims of the fire, which happened Sunday night just outside the city limits of Lafayette, a close-knit rural community about 55 miles northeast of Nashville. All were overcome by smoke inhalation.
"Everybody knows everybody," Scruggs said of the community of 8,000. "This is the most that have ever died in a house fire that I remember."
Firefighters reached the house four minutes after being called but found it already engulfed in flames. Firefighters encountered several explosions while trying to extinguish the blaze. Scruggs said the fire could have been caused by an oxygen or propane tank explosion. The cause is under investigation.
The dead include Robert Solomon, 80, an Alzheimer's and dementia patient, and his wife, Barbara Solomon, 73, who had recently retired as the charge nurse at Macon County General Hospital, Scruggs said. She recently had both hips and a knee replaced, and was not very mobile, he said.
Alice Cockrill, 65, Barbara Solomon's sister, also died, Scruggs said. She had spent most of her time in bed with chronic pain and other issues, he said.
The fourth victim was neighbor Danny Nash, 55, a church deacon who apparently ran into the house, Scruggs said. Nash got the Solomons to near the front door and went back to the bedroom to rescue Cockrill, Scruggs said.
Scruggs said he had known Nash, "a good guy," all his life. "I'm very distraught," he said. "It makes me sick."
(Reporting By Tim Ghianni; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Steve Orlofsky)