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6-year-old girl killed in apartment fire

Four other family members in critical condition

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 6-year-old girl is dead and four of her family members are in critical condition after their St. Nicholas apartment caught fire early Friday morning.

Around 1:50 a.m. firefighters with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department were dispatched to a fire at the Landon Imperial Apartments at 1913 Art Museum Drive.

When firefighters arrived, the second-story apartment was fully involved.

A family of five was living in the apartment at the time of the fire. Firefighters discovered the family members inside the home, pulled them out of the fire and transported them to several different hospitals.

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Jamiyah Smith, 6, died in the fire, according to police. Firefighters attempted CPR on Jamiyah but were unable to save her.

Her mother, 26-year-old Ayana Ahota, is in critical condition. The father, 27-year-old Ronnie Smith, sustained life-threatening injuries. Amani Smith, 3, and Asia Dewey, 11, are in critical condition with smoke inhalation, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Authorities said Ronnie Smith is not expected to survive his injuries.

"We heard banging upstairs... and then it sounded like someone just rolled on the floor and then it got silent," said a neighbor living below the apartment. "So I went into the kitchen. I'm cutting the turkey up and the next thing I know I'm smelling this stench. It's not a regular fire like food or anything. It's like you're smelling the smoke of plastic." 

The neighbor said he tried to save the family.

"And the whole kitchen, you see the fire going like that. So I kicked the door into the kitchen and the flames just came back out. We couldn't get in that way," the neighbor said. "We couldn't get the other door open and then we broke the glass to get in... nothing but smoke. We couldn't see anything. But I was telling them, somebody is in there because we heard the moving around. We heard the moving on the floor but we didn't know the babies were still in there."

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JFRD was able to get the fire under control around 2:15 a.m.

The state fire marshal, JFRD and police are investigating the cause of the fire, but they said it does not appear to be intentional.

"Right now they're telling us that there's no foul play suspected and they believe the fire started in the kitchen area and that they don't have any other reason to believe there would be foul play," said Jacksonville Sheriff's Office homicide Sgt. Dan Janson.

The floor plan (pictured) shows the kitchen is in the front of the apartment, right next to the front door. Many residents said they believe the flames blocked the family inside.

"Wood fires in typical home fires, it takes typically several minutes, depending on the density of smoke, to start feeling the effects of smoking inhalation. But unfortunately, if there are plastics involved, the time can be shortened," said Dr. Jennifer Fulton, chief of critical care at Baptist Medical Center. "Children have less time because they are at faster metabolic rates, so they will ingest the smoke faster. They breathe faster than adults, because their lungs are smaller, and so they typically will get inhalation injuries quicker than adults."

Neighbors said everyone was frantic, thinking the entire family may have died in the fire.

"Everybody was outside. It was basically chaos everywhere, people screaming," said Torrence Beavers. "Hopefully, it is a Christmas miracle. I know it is the day after, but I hope that they'll pull through and make it."

The apartment manager said she kicked in the door trying to save the people inside. She said she knew the family and saw Jamiyah riding her bike on Christmas Day. She said she's devastated and can't get the image out of her mind of the little girl being pulled out of the apartment unconscious by firefighters.

"We basically thought that they all lost their lives. The whole... everybody who lives out here was out here. People were losing it. And she runs this apartment. She cares about these kids. They live right above us. She lost it," said a neighbor.

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The fire was contained to one apartment, according to JFRD.

"No one was displaced by this fire as far as the other residents are concerned. It only affected that one apartment, and I believe that the other children are still living weren't burned, but suffered smoke inhalation," said Janson.

Neighbors left stuffed animals in a makeshift memorial for Jamiyah Friday afternoon.

Fulton offered tips to anyone who finds themselves trapped in a fire.

"Get as low to the ground as possible, and if that means laying on the floor with your face to the floor, that's what you have to do," Fulton said. "And the other thing that really makes a difference is putting a wet cloth over your nose and mouth. Not tightly, but enough to try to act as a filter between the air you're breathing in and your nose and mouth."

News4Jax was told the children's grandmother lives in town and is at the hospital, hoping they pull through.

The family has set up a go fund me account. http://www.gofundme.com/jbv63c