FORT CAMPBELL, Ky.- Two children of an Army soldier who recently returned from Iraq died in an early morning fire on the Fort Campbell Army post.
Wayne Smallwood, a soldier with the Third Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, was treated for non-life threatening injuries Tuesday.
His wife, Billi-Jo Smallwood, underwent skin graft surgery on her burns at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Friends said she was trying to save her son and daughter.
Fort Campbell's fire department was summoned to the fire at 1:33 a.m. Tuesday to an area of the Army post housing known as Lee Village. The incident commander listed the fire as under control at 2:03 a.m.
The fire left Wayne Smallwood and his wife, Billi-Jo Smallwood, injured. He was reportedly hurt leaping from a second-story window.
Sam, 9, and his 3-year-old sister Rebecca were pronounced dead at the post's Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. Eighteen-month-old Nevaeh was not hurt.
"It's a tragic event," said Maj. Jeff Allen of Fort Campbell. "Anytime a child is lost, it's a tragic event, not only for the family, but also for the neighbors and the community as a whole."
A Fort Campbell spokesperson called the attached style housing a "six-plex" where six military families live.
Friends said Billi-Jo Smallwood knew something was wrong and went straight for her kids.
She grabbed 3-year-old Rebecca and then tried to awaken 9-year old Sam, but he was unconscious. Lugging both children, she fought through the smoke and fire, trying to make it to the roof.
The Smallwood family Web site shows a tight and happy family.
Her friends said that she is devastated.
At the hospital she repeatedly said she was so sorry. Friends said there's nothing more she could have done.
Now investigators must consider if someone intentionally started the fire.
The fire is believed to have started in the center unit where the Smallwoods lived.
It is a tragedy that affects not only this family, but also the post as a whole.
"When these things do happen, of course, we understand a little closer and we reach out that much more because we are a family," Allen said.
The housing that burned dates back to the 1940s and was slated for reconstruction. The Army post said it's still too early to say whether the building's age contributed to the speed of the fire.
The Fort Campbell Fire Department is investigating the fire along with the Kentucky State Fire Marshal's office, Fort Campbell Military Police and the Criminal Investigation Division.
According to Fort Campbell Fire Chief Michael Boyd, the fire was contained in a single housing unit. The unit sustained heavy fire damage on both the first and second floors.
Since 1982, there have been two fatal fire incidents, Boyd said.
The last fatal fire on base was in November 1999. A 3-year-old child was killed in a housing fire.
A fund has been set up to help cover costs for the Smallwood family. Contributions will be accepted at any Bank of America branch. Donations may be earmarked for the Smallwood Family Fund.
The American Red Cross is helping all six families displaced by the fire.