NEW CASTLE, Pa. (WKBN) — Fire crews are investigating a fatal house fire in New Castle early Wednesday morning.
New Castle Fire Chief Michael Kobbe said that the victims are two adults and one teenager. They were identified as 41-year-old Courtney Payne, 17-year-old Terianna Payne and 18-year-old Xzavia Booker.
Crews were called to the 700 block of West Clayton St. at 5:30 a.m.
Kobbe said two victims were found right away. Crews found the third victim in a second search. Courtney and Terianna Payne lived in the home, while Booker was a visitor.
Relatives of the fire victims carry some remembrances of them from the burned-out house.
“She was a proud mom. She was a single mom, a strong mom, she took care of those kids by herself. A very good mother,” said Courtney Payne’s relative Kia Waller.
“She was like the big sister caretaker, when she like took care of all of us,” said relative Nicole Payne.
The fire most likely started in or near the kitchen, according to Kobbe.
Kobbe said the three likely died from smoke inhalation and the smoke inside the home was very thick and turned the house pitch black. He said the victims tried to escape but got disoriented.
“When our firefighters managed to make entry into the home the smoke did what we call ‘bank,’ it had pushed all the way down to the floor so it was basically black in the house whenever they got in, and it appears as though a couple of the victims tried to escape but got disoriented which happens a lot in house fires,” Kobbe said.
The mother, Courtney Payne, made the call to 911 for help.
“She did call 911 though. She didn’t make it out, it was the smoke. Thank God they didn’t burn alive,” Waller said.
Terianna’s friend Xzavia Booker had just gotten her high school diploma Dec. 22. Terianna was a senior at New Castle High, a cheerleader and cheered with Natalie’s Cheer and Tumbles.
“She went from cheering for the high school to NCT. They went to so many nationals in Florida for years,” Waller said.
The loss of three lives shook the neighborhood, a tight-knit community. Kia Waller will always remember her sister as, “a good person. Big heart. Full of life.”
Courtney Payne leaves behind a son, who turned 12-years-old on Wednesday. He stayed at a friend’s house Tuesday night.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Kobbe said his firefighters are very motivated and hardworking but it’s hard to cope with fatal fires. Kobbe said the team is receiving crisis management.
Kobbe said the fire does not seem suspicious.