Updated: 07-31-2003 10:51:03 AM

Power Strip Caused Deadly Michigan Fire

Associated Press

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- Fire rushed through a two-story brick house, killing five young children and their mother, who was pregnant with twins, police and neighbors said.

The fire chief said the fire began when a power strip melted, and that authorities will pursue criminal charges against the landlord of the house, which lacked smoke detectors.

The home's front entrance was cordoned off Wednesday by yellow police tape, and about two dozen teddy bears and a collection of flowers sat on the steps. Windows and doors were boarded up, and a pair of children's shoes lay on the grass.

The six victims were the only people home when the fire started late Tuesday in Pontiac, about 30 miles north of Detroit, said Fire Chief Wilburt McAdams.

A neighbor said she shouted and banged on the windows when she saw the flames but got no response.

``I couldn't hear anything except the crackling of the fire,'' Shelley Nellum told the Detroit Free Press.

A family spokeswoman said the father, Francisco Valiente, 26, was out with a friend when the blaze erupted. ``He's very stressed and having a difficult time,'' Debra Ehrmann said.

Guillermina Valiente Carrasco, 26, and Selena Valiente, 1, were pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. Grecia Valiente, 7; twins Francisco and Eduardo Valiente, 3; and Veronica Valiente, 2, were pronounced dead at a hospital.

Ehrmann said the family had come to the United States from Mexico eight years ago and moved into the house six months ago.

McAdams said an air conditioner had been plugged into the power strip that caused the fire.

McAdams told the Free Press that investigators had failed to find any smoke detectors in the rented house, and that authorities intended ``to pursue this as criminal negligence on the part of the landlord.''

The city cited owner Bobby Dansby in May for lack of smoke detectors at the house, the newspaper said. There is no telephone listing for Dansby in the Pontiac area.