January 3, 2002 at 5:44 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 3:06 AM
BREWSTER, Ohio (AP) - A volunteer firefighter is second-guessing his actions in a New Year's Day fire that killed his pregnant wife and four of their children.
Chris Kahrig told his wife to herd the children together and wait for help, then disappeared into a black cloud that was climbing the stairs.
Kahrig struggled through smoke and heat and reached the two-story house's only phone.
His wife, seven months into her seventh pregnancy, gathered the children and huddled in a bathroom upstairs, plugging wet towels under the door.
Kahrig, 32, is now questioning his decision to call for help and fight the blaze with a fire extinguisher rather than take his family through smoke so thick he could not see or breathe, Assistant Fire Chief Dale Starcher said.
"He's beating himself up about this now," Starcher said.
Dixie Kahrig, 28, was killed Tuesday along with Alyssa, 7, and Zachery, 5. Siblings Keyawnu, 3, and Dawson, 2, died Wednesday afternoon at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron.
Bryce, 18 months, was in critical condition early Thursday at Children's Hospital.
The couple's oldest son, Corey, 12, spent New Year's Eve at a friend's house and was not at home when the fire started.
Chris Kahrig was treated for smoke inhalation and released.
The 11 a.m. fire may have started in the living room from an electrical short, assistant Fire Chief Dale Starcher said, possibly involving Christmas tree lights or the outlet.
Firefighters arrived within four minutes of the first call.
The dispatcher told Kahrig to get out of the house, a half-block from the firehouse in Brewster, 15 miles southwest of Canton. He tried to crawl back in, but couldn't, Starcher said.
Fire crews resuscitated the three youngest children. Dixie was taken to a hospital in Perry Township where doctors performed an emergency Caesarean section, but could not save the 2-pound baby girl.
The deaths are being investigated as accidental, a spokeswoman for the Stark County coroner said.
Starcher said that he thinks Dixie took the children into the bathroom because there was water. The door had been closed to keep smoke and heat out. She didn't try to escape by opening or breaking the bathroom window because that could have caused a back draft, Starcher said.
Volunteer firefighter Pam Flesher, who consoled Kahrig at the hospital, said he is doubting his actions, wondering why he should have survived and not his wife and children.
"If you haven't been in that predicament, you don't know what you're going to do," said Flesher, who survived a house fire three years ago. "He went to see where the fire was."
Starcher turned over the investigation to the state fire marshal. Starcher said that the entire family would have died if Kahrig had stayed upstairs with them and not called for help.
"I wouldn't have done anything different," he said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)