TAMPA — Neighbors awoke before 6 a.m. to screams.
The woman from two doors down was running in the street, shouting.
Lisa Washington recognized her as the young mother whose children had been playing in the front yard Thursday afternoon. She didn't make out the words until she stepped out the door:
"Help me! Help! My children!"
Kimberly Mack's home was in flames, two of her children still inside.
It took fire crews more than 15 minutes to contain the blaze and rescue Ja-niyah Grant, 1, and Elijah Small, 5, from the house at 3613 E Diana St.
Soon after, both children and their mother were rushed to Tampa General Hospital.
Mack, 25, suffered minor burns. The children remained in critical condition throughout the day. Officials did not discuss the specific nature of their injuries.
Chazmaine Small, 6, escaped with his mother and was not injured in the fire.
Investigators determined the fire was accidental. But the injuries, they said, may have been prevented if the home had been properly equipped with smoke detectors.
"There's always that chance that a smoke detector could save someone's life," Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Cpt. Lonnie Benniefield said. "It makes the difference of getting up at the first sign of smoke versus the first sign of fire."
Not a single smoke detector was found in the house, Tampa Police detectives said.
In the City of Tampa and surrounding Hillsborough County, all homes are required to meet specific safety codes that include smoke detectors. In the case of rental properties, like this one, it is the landlord's responsibility to install the devices.
Elma C. Bodie, who owns the two-bedroom home, did not return calls for comment Friday.
Fire Marshal Russell Spicola said renters shouldn't wait around for property owners to act.
"I wouldn't rely on somebody else to worry about the value of my life or my kids' lives," he said. "Go out and get one yourself."
In the county, a landlord can be fined up to $1,000 per day for every day the house remains in violation, said Hillsborough County Code Enforcement Director Dexter Barge.
"Smoke detectors are so, so important," Barge said.
Mack and her children had just moved into the single-family home on Feb. 1, neighbors said. Washington said she didn't know the family well, but the children reminded her of her young grandchildren, ages 3 and 4.
"I was in tears," she said. "I was crying because I was thinking about my grand kids."
Washington was sleeping early Friday when a neighbor knocked on her door. In the early stages of the fire, it looked like it might spread to nearby homes — hers is just two houses away.
Michael Washington, 22, who lives with Lisa, said Mack's house was overcome by flames when he went outside Friday morning.
"There was fire everywhere. The whole house was covered," he said. "Man, I've never seen anything like that before."
Fire safety experts recommend checking smoke detectors regularly and changing the batteries twice a year during Daylight Savings Time.
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3386.