Enfield Fire Victims Died of Burns, Smoke Inhalation

The four people killed in an Enfield house fire that officials have described as "unprecedented" and "horrific" died of smoke inhalation, and two also suffered burns to their bodies and airways, according to state police.

The state medical examiner's office has ruled that Orise Handfield and her daughter Cathy Armes died of smoke inhalation in the Dec. 10 blaze at their home on South River Street in Enfield.

Police have identified the other two victims as Joshua Johnson, 20, and David Cygan, 19, both of whom died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns on their airways and bodies.

Friends and family members said Johnson was Handfield's grandson and Cygan, who went by Dahvie, was a close family friend.

Fire officials are trying to figure out what sparked the blaze that family members say killed a grandmother, her adopted daughter, grandson and a family friend in Enfield.

Five other residents, including Johnson's mother, made it out alive after flames broke out in the duplex at 68 South River Street on Tuesday morning. One was taken to a facility in Boston for treatment of burns. The other three escaped on their own and ran to a neighbor's house, officials said.

Authorities have not released any information on the conditions of the survivors.

Detectives from the Connecticut State Police Fire and Explosion Investigative Unit are investigating the cause of the blaze. Witnesses speculate that a Christmas tree, which they say caught fire the day before, may have sparked the flames.

Firefighters said they did not receive a report of a previous fire at the home, which witnesses say was small.

"Within seconds, the smoke started to get very heavy and I heard an explosion, and huge explosion from upstairs, and then I heard multiple explosions," explained neighbor Kristy Conway, who said she heard screams and rushed to help.

Firefighters arrived to find the home engulfed in flames and said the second floor collapsed onto the first, making it too dangerous for rescue crews to enter the building, according to fire department spokesperson Mark Zarcaro.

"This is certainly unprecedented. I don't think in 30-something years that I've been in the fire service that we've had multiple deaths," said Zarcaro.

The American Red Cross has provided housing, food and clothing for the survivors, including an adult and two children in one family and two adults in the second. Volunteers have also been working to connect survivors with emotional support services.

Investigators are still trying to determine whether the house was equipped with working smoke detectors.

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