DULUTH - In the eyes of her grandfather, Amirror Wingfield had the technical acumen and boundless intelligence of a future computer scientist.
"She was very, very intelligent," Ira Jackson said. "She started messing with my computer when she was 5 years old. I'm talking, she could get on and off ... I had to block her out."
Following a catastrophic house fire Friday night, the 12-year-old girl won't have the chance to reach her potential. She's the youngest of three sisters to die in the blaze, the only grandchildren Jackson had.
Wingfield and her sisters, Deeddee, 17, and Laytoa, 19, died from injuries suffered when the girls couldn't escape the third floor of their Howell Park townhome, a stately home huddled between two adjoining units. Laytoa clung to life in an intensive care unit at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth until late Saturday evening, authorities said.
As hints of smoke still wafted in the neighborhood Saturday, the devastated family scrambled for answers. The girl's mother, Estella, escaped the fire by jumping off a back deck, authorities said.
Her husband and the girls' father, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Rufus Wingfield, was notified of the tragedy by the Red Cross. He's serving his second tour in Afghanistan and was en route home Saturday, Jackson said.
"He's coming," he said.
Jackson described the middle child, Deeddee, as a free spirit who loved music and balloons. School administrators visited the scene, telling family a special, balloon-themed room at Deeddee's school will be named in her honor, Jackson said.
Gwinnett County fire spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said one of the girls was able to call 911 and remained on the phone with dispatchers as firefighters responded.
Firefighters pulled the girls from a closet on the third floor.
"They were all three unconscious and unresponsive when firefighters removed them," Rutledge said. "Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family."
The fire is believed to have originated in a bedroom near the home's kitchen. The cause is under investigation.
After her own Army career, the girl's mother decided to stop uprooting her children, declaring Georgia their permanent home, Jackson said.
Estella is employed with Rockwell Collins, an aviation and satellite communication company in Duluth. Friends from the company were on hand Saturday to make hotel arrangements and provide support for the family.
"We're all just worried about her," one coworker said at the scene. "We're going to work together to take care of her."
SideBar: Fire safety tips
The Gwinnett County Fire Department offers these tips for proper fire safety practices:
1. Install and maintain working smoke alarms on every level of the home and in each of the bedrooms.
2. Develop a home fire escape plan. Know two-ways out from every room and designate a meeting place outside the burning building.
3. Practice fire drills regularly with the entire family. Know who is going to help the youngest and the oldest.
4. If you are trapped in a burning building, remember to stay low to the floor and close as many doors as possible between you and the fire.
5. Open the window and hang something bright colored outside to signal firefighters. Wait low to the floor by the open window and call 9-1-1 to report your location inside the building. Jumping from a one-story dwelling could save your life.
6. If you are trapped on the upper floors of a house or apartment, a collapsible fire escape ladder could be your only access to safety. It is important to have an escape ladder to use, especially if you can't get down the stairs during a fire.
Fire safety day
The Gwinnett County Fire Department will host a "Fire Safety Day" at Fire Station No. 27 on Old Fountain Road in Dacula on Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. Activities will include lessons on proper fire safety practices, tours of the fire station, firetruck displays and demonstrations in a mobile fire safety/smoke house on surviving a fire.