Six people were confirmed dead on Friday in a predawn apartment fire in suburban Milwaukee, and authorities have opened a criminal investigation for any clues that the blaze may have been deliberately set, police said.
The fire was reported shortly after 5 a.m. in a four-unit apartment house in the village of Hartland, Wisconsin, about 25 miles west of Milwaukee, the town's police chief, Torin Misko, said in a media briefing at the scene.
Police and fire department crews called to the scene "were met with a large amount of fire and began rescuing individuals from the building and balconies," Misko said.
A photo of the blaze posted online by local television station WITI-TV showed flames engulfing a balcony on the upper floor of the two-story building.
"This is an active criminal investigation," Misko told reporters, adding that Hartland police were being assisted by the state fire marshal's office, the Wisconsin crime lab, the local sheriff's department and other agencies.
Asked if authorities had any indication that the fire was intentionally set, Misko said, "that's what we're looking into at this moment." He added later that criminal investigations of fatal fires are a matter of routine for law enforcement.
Misko initially put the death toll at seven, based on preliminary information from first-responders, but later said six fatalities had been confirmed. The chief said he had no immediate information about the victims or the precise circumstances of their deaths.
Personnel from 15 area fire departments and nine police departments responded to the incident, he said.