Carter County Sheriff Ken Grace said an ear­ly morning fire T hursday that claimed the lives of a mother and her two young children remains under investigation.

Grace said deputies were called to mobile home residence, located south of Wilson at 815 Santa Fe Road, about 4:30 a.m.

"The father, Benjie Glenn Hick­man, was outside. An ambulance was called and he was taken to the hospital for smoke inhala­tion," Grace said.

Wilson Fire Chief Jeff Stea­rns called the blaze a "bad deal. The wind was a factor, when it caught fire, it swept through pretty quick." Dillard Fire Depart­ment assisted Wilson firefighters. Early Thursday Stearns said the State Fire Marshal 's Office was on the scene. According to Grace, the fire marshal's preliminary investigation indicated portable heaters may have played a role in sparking the blaze that consumed the trailer.

While the preliminary investi­gation is complete, the probe into the circumstances surrounding the fire and the three deaths re­mains ongoing. The sheriff said Hickman told investigators, "He woke up, saw his house was on fire and ran outside and got the hose." But he didn' t repor t the fire. Grace said a passerby who saw the blaze, "called us and the fire department.

"The fire completely engulfed the trailer and took it to the ground," Grace said. "Inside, the body of his (Hickman's) 27-year­old wife, 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son were found." District Attorney Craig Ladd confirmed he was aware of the ongoing inquiry.

"I've been in contact with Lt. Rick Batt (Carter County Sheriff 's Department Criminal Investiga­tion Division) and we are fol­lowing proper procedures and protocol," Ladd said.

The bodies of the three victims were taken to the state Medi­cal Examiner 's Office for positive identification. Late Thursday, Amy Elliott, Medical Examiner Public Information Officer, said dental records would be used in the identification process. El­liott said it was possible formal identification could be completed sometime today.

However, Thursday the vic­tims were tentatively identified as Hickman's wife, Daundra, and the couple's daughter, Brooklyn and son, Benjamin. Local au­thorities said family notification had been completed.

Hickman, who turned 38 Thursday, was released from the hospital hours after admitted.