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2 killed in house fire
Woman and niece perish in blaze authorities say was accidental
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Family members inside a Jefferson house were awakened early Saturday to 33-year-old Nikki Cassell screaming “Fire!” By the time firefighters arrived, Cassell and her 9-year-old niece were dead, officials said.

Cassell was believed to be cooking when fire broke out in the kitchen of the two-story house on Johnson Mill Road about 3 a.m., state Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine said.

Cassell’s daughter, sister and two of the sister’s three children survived the fire with minor smoke inhalation.

Cassell first got up about 2:30 a.m. when she went into the children’s room to search for a bag of potato chips, family members told investigators.

About 30 minutes later, Cassell’s sister, Terry Wright, heard Cassell’s screams and the sound of banging in the kitchen, where flames were shooting out of the doorway. Wright tried to rouse the four children who were sleeping as the house rapidly filled with smoke.

Three of the children, Michael and Holly Wright and Gracie Cassell, got up and escaped the burning home with Terry Wright, but her 9-year-old daughter Winter Wright didn’t get out of bed, Oxendine said.

“It appears she was a heavy sleeper,” he said.

Firefighters found the girl’s body in the bedroom and Cassell outside the doorway of the kitchen.

The cause of the fire will be ruled accidental. The house had no working smoke detectors, officials said.

The four survivors were treated for smoke inhalation. The house was destroyed.

Oxendine said the fatal fire underscored the need for working smoke detectors and for parents to conduct fire escape drills while their children are in bed.

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