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Hotplate Blamed For Kinston Fire That Kills Two Children

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KINSTON, N.C. — Two young girls died when their home in Kinston burned.

Firefighters believe the girls' grandmother tried to heat a room with a hotplate Monday night. Somehow, the house caught fire.

Malequia Barnes, 7, and her sister, 9-year-old Shanequia Jones, died.

Their grandmother, Joyce Barnes, was in good condition Tuesday night at Lenoir Memorial Hospital, a spokeswoman said.

The blaze began Monday night and spread quickly. The sisters retreated to the bottom bunk of a nearby set of bunk beds rather than running from the room.

Joyce Barnes told firefighters she tried to put out the flames with a pot of water. After being forced from thehouse, she ran next door to call 911 because she didn't have a phone.

The deaths were the latest in a series of North Carolina firefatalities during the past month involving auxiliary heating - twoNash County people died in a blaze blamed on a kerosene heater, anda Fayetteville man died in a fire caused by an extension cord onhis electric blanket.

At least seven North Carolinians have died in fires during the past month.

Greg Smith, operations director for the Kinston Fire Department,said Tuesday that investigators think the Kinston family's hotplate ignited a mattress next to the bed on which the girls wereplaying.

Felicia Barnes, the girls' mother, said Tuesday that the familyused the hotplate for heating because they didn't have money torun the furnace in their rented house.

"That's what we had to do," she said.

Jim Long, the state insurance commissioner and fire marshal,said Tuesday night that fire deaths rise every time the temperaturedrops.

"You get this rush of them every time you go into the heatingseason," he said.

People use stovetops and ovens to keep dwellings warm; theyrefill hot kerosene heaters and set out space heaters, which oftenstart fires when they are too near clothes, beds and couches.

"When it gets cold, people do whatever they can to stay warm,"said Woody Spencer, a spokesman for the Kinston Department ofPublic Safety.

The family's house had a smoke alarm as state law requires,Smith said. But firefighters could not say whether it was workingbefore the fire.

The girls, their mother and grandmother lived in the one-storywood-frame house, and Felicia Barnes said another daughter wasstaying with other family when the fire broke out.

The girls attended Teachers Memorial Elementary School, whereShanequia was a third-grader and Malequia was in the second grade.

Sherlene Gore, the school's principal, said counselors werebrought in after students were told of the girls' deaths Tuesdaymorning.

"They are very quiet," she said of the reaction.

Gore said teachers had Shanequia's classmates write notes aboutwhat they remembered about their friend.

"She was kind," wroteone. "She liked to share her toys."