On Air Now
Heart's Feel Good Weekend with Emma Bunton 7pm - 10pm
5 February 2019, 16:20 | Updated: 5 February 2019, 16:22
Emotional tributes have been paid to four young children who were killed when a fire ripped through their family home in the middle of the night.
Eight-year-old Riley Holt, brothers Keegan Unitt, six, and Olly Unitt, three, died in the blaze on Sycamore Lane in the Highfields area of Stafford, alongside their sister, four-year-old Tilly Rose Unitt.
A fifth child escaped from a first-floor window along with his mother Natalie Unitt and her partner Chris. They remain in hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Teachers described the children as "bright, happy, loving and lively".
Nicola Glover, head teacher at Castlechurch Primary School said: "Our entire school community is absolutely devastated by this news.
"Riley was a very confident, excitable member of school who came every day full of enthusiasm. He was a caring friend who hated to see anyone hurt or upset and would do his best to help or cheer them up.
"Riley had a great sense of humour and an infectious giggle. He was a very bright and articulate boy who showed interest in all areas and was always keen to ask lots of questions.
"Tilly was a happy little girl who loved coming to nursery. She was a friendly and caring child who loved to read stories, dress up and paint.
"Tilly was always proud of her achievements.
"Olly was a happy, loving boy who loved cuddles. He was always happy to come to nursery and loved to be in the roleplay area with the dolls."
Kim Ellis, head teacher at Marshlands Special School where Keegan was a pupil, said: "Keegan was lively, full of fun and mischief with a really endearing smile.
"He loved school and everyone who worked with him loved him. We were all proud of him and the progress that he had made.
"It is very hard to accept what has happened."
Both schools said support systems were being put in place to help staff and pupils.
Floral tributes have begun being laid near the scene, while thousands of pounds has already been raised through crowdfunding to help support the family.
A handwritten note attached to a cuddly toy read: "RIP Babes xx life is so so cruel. All our thoughts are with the family at this very sad time."
One note read: "Will be dearly missed, love Uncle Dave and Auntie Lou Lou", while another added: "To my lovely grandkids I will always miss you. Love you always xxx"
A nearby resident described how a sheet of flames engulfed an upstairs window at the semi-detached property, at around 2.40am on Tuesday.
The witness, who asked not to be named, told the Press Association at the scene: "We heard a bang and looked out of the back window upstairs.
"At the start it was just a sheet of fire coming out of the bedroom window. It seemed to take ages for the fire brigade to arrive - it seemed like forever.
"The neighbours came out and drove their car out of the back garden and there were lots of fire engines and police."
Messages of love and support for the survivors of a house fire which killed four kids in #Stafford are being left at the foot of a police cordon by families walking back from school. #HeartNews pic.twitter.com/69dq0z5qEo— West Mids News (@HeartWMidsNews) February 5, 2019
Local woman Amanda Blagg visited the scene to lay flowers and a teddy in memory of the children.
Wiping away tears, the 38-year-old told reporters: "I saw the mum every day at the school - her son is in the nursery with my son.
"I heard what had happened on the news and I just cried straight away. It's awful."
Another resident, who was also reluctant to give her name, said she had not realised that anyone had died in the blaze until she heard a news broadcast confirming that four children had died.
"The room at the back was completely full of flames," the woman said.
"We just stood there with our hands over our mouths wondering what was going to happen next.
"A man and a woman got into an ambulance. They were in blankets and she had the little one in her arms.
"I'd assumed they had all got out. It's terribly sad, almost beyond belief."
Fire crews remain at the scene combing for clues as to what triggered the blaze.
Part of the roof has collapsed, with the windows smashed and the inside appearing to have been blackened by smoke.
You can listen to full statements from all emergency services below.
"I know this heartbreaking, tragic incident will have affected large parts of our community."— West Mids News (@HeartWMidsNews) February 5, 2019
Rob Barber from @StaffsFire has been giving an update on the fire in #Stafford this morning.#HeartNews pic.twitter.com/1MrUwTvNIi
"This was an immensely difficult incident for all three services."— West Mids News (@HeartWMidsNews) February 5, 2019
Nathan Hudson from @OFFICIALWMAS has been giving an update on the fire in #Stafford this morning.#HeartNews pic.twitter.com/UlvOrCCJDh