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“They’re dead, ” he told Channel 2 Action News as tears streamed down his face. “My whole life is over. My whole life is over.”

The fire that killed Patterson’s wife, Kathy, and the couple’s 9- and 12-year-old daughters appears to have been wind-driven and flames spread rapidly through the home, Gwinnett fire spokesman Tommy Rutledge said Wednesday.

“The fire was so intense, ” he said, “firefighters could not immediately enter the structure. They had to battle this blaze from outside.”

And they did not find the body of one of the children until 5:30 a.m. Wednesday — nine hours after dispatchers received calls reporting the blaze. She was found in debris.

A team of firefighters, investigators and crime scene technicians from the Gwinnett County Police Department worked through the night to find the girl’s body.

They returned to the scene in the 1000 block of Pointer Ridge on Wednesday to determine what caused the blaze.

‘A loud, popping sound’

Dispatchers received calls reporting the blaze about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Rutledge said.

“We arrived on the scene [and] found a two-story house on a slab engulfed in flames, ” he said.

Firefighters were met outside the home by Patterson. He was screaming, Rutledge said.

Patterson told firefighters his family was on the second floor.

He said his wife and girls were upstairs getting ready for bed when he heard a loud, popping sound.

Patterson went downstairs to investigate and discovered the fire.

“He hollered back up to his wife and two children to get out of the house, ” Rutledge said.

Patterson went outside. His wife and children were unable to escape.

“I couldn’t get back in, ” Patterson told Channel 2 on Wednesday. “There was nothing I could do.”

Rutledge said: “He made attempts to re-enter the home to save his family, but was forced back due to intense heat and flames. A neighbor tried to assist him with entering from the home, but was unsuccessful.”

The home was equipped with one smoke alarm on the second floor. Patterson “did not remember ever hearing the alarm sound during the fire, ” Rutledge said.

Neighbor Charles Fleck told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he and his wife gave Patterson, who was covered in soot, a blanket.

“We had seen the house on fire, amazingly on fire, ” Fleck said. “When we went around to check it out, we could see the husband was distraught.”

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