LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A girl who escaped a western Kentucky house fire that killed her mother and eight siblings is recuperating from burns and communicating with her hospital nurses, a family friend said Friday.
Kylie Watson wrote "I'm hungry" on a dry erase board from her hospital bed, pastor Tim Burden said. Burden said the 11-year-old girl's father, Chad Watson, is also making progress at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Eight of Chad Watson's children and his wife, Nikki, died in a house fire in rural Muhlenberg County early Thursday morning. Investigators say the fire was likely ignited when a combustible material made contact with a baseboard heater.
"The whole community is mourning. This is a tragedy, and it could happen to any of us," said Duane Harvey, a neighbor who was the first person to arrive at the fire just after 2 a.m.
The father and daughter were listed in critical, but stable condition on Friday afternoon.
Friends and relatives around the community of Depoy say the church-going family was loving and close but struggled with finances. Local banks are accepting donations to help the two survivors.
"They have nothing," said Burden, who is pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Central City. Chad Watson "drove a $1,500 truck, and I'm being generous with that."
"We had to give him a jump every time he got ready to leave the church."
The church held a candlelight vigil Friday night. More than 100 people attended and sang "Amazing Grace," said Jessica Schmidt, a reporter with WFIE-TV in Evansville, Ind.
Eleven candles stood at the front of the sanctuary: two blue ones for the surviving father and daughter and nine white candles for the ones who died.
Burden said the family was renting the home and had no insurance and no funds to cover the cost of funerals. Chad Watson worked a paper route in the early morning hours and then went to a construction job after that.
"It's just tough, because I was personally involved with them, I knew their woes of life, the struggles that they had," he said.
Old National Bank is taking donations for the Watson family at all of its branches, and First Kentucky Bank in Central City and Commonwealth Bank in Greenville are also accepting donations.
Burden is hoping the banks collect enough to build a house for Watson and get him a working vehicle. A "Watson Family Fundraiser" Facebook page was also started on Thursday by friends of the family.
Shortly after the fire began, Harvey, chief of the nearby Graham Volunteer Fire Department, heard the call and rushed to his neighbor's burning home. He met Chad Watson and his daughter in the road, and he took them to a neighbor's house.
"Chad was extremely emotional, you could tell he was in a lot of pain," Harvey said. He noticed burns on Watson's arms, neck and head.
"The heat was so intense, even 35 feet in front of the house," Harvey said.
The state medical examiner concluded on Friday that the nine victims died of smoke inhalation, according to a release from Kentucky State Police.
Along with Nikki Watson, the remains of 15-year-old Madison Watson; 14-year-old Kaitlyn Watson; 13-year-old Morgan Watson; 9-year-old Emily Watson; 8-year-old Samuel Watson; 6-year-old Raegan Watson; and 4-year-old twin brothers Mark and Nathaniel Watson were retrieved from the burned-out structure on Thursday. Nikki Watson and her children were found in the master bedroom of the home, part of which had collapsed during the blaze, state police said. Investigators said the family members could have been trying to escape through a window.
Nikki Watson's niece Amber Lear drove by the scene of the fire on Thursday afternoon. She said her aunt was like an older sister to her when they were growing up, and she has fond memories of them playing together.
"She was an amazing mom," Lear said of Watson.
Associated Press Writer Travis Loller in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.