Novi — Neighbors in a quiet Novi neighborhood grappled Sunday with tragedy after an early morning fire left five people dead.

Kurt Kilar said he and his wife saw fire trucks pull up around 9:30 a.m. as smoke billowed from a home across the street on the 23000 block of Mystic Forest Drive near Nine Mile and Novi roads.

“We watched. We couldn’t do much of anything,” said Kilar, looking on at the police officers and fire investigators at the scene of the blaze Sunday afternoon. “This is a first for us in the 18 years we’ve been here. Nothing tragic like this has ever happened in the neighborhood.”

Neighbors said they believe the five victims worked at a nearby Chinese eatery. A sign on the door of the Novi Road restaurant said: “We are out of power close today, sorry for the inconvenience.” No one answered the door of the restaurant Sunday.

David Molloy, the city’s director of public safety and chief of police, said a preliminary investigation found the blaze began in the basement. The two-story home was occupied on the first floor, but it appears the victims were living in the basement.

“The cause and origin of the fire is still being investigated,” Molloy said.

No information was available on the victims’ identities, which investigators were trying to determine Sunday afternoon. Molloy late Sunday said it remained unclear whether the home was a rental or owner-occupied and if the basement had proper exits and working smoke detectors.

Molloy said investigators extinguished the fire and entered the home, finding five victims in the basement.

Molloy said they appeared to be in their late 20s and early 30s. Public safety officials attempted CPR on two of the victims, but no one survived the fire.

Kilar said he was unsure how many people lived in the home, nor did he know their names. But he recognized one of the victims, a younger, “polite” man whom he would sometimes greet as he passed by, see mowing the lawn or walking through the neighborhood.

“We saw him carried out, and they were doing CPR on him, and it didn’t look too good,” Kilar said, noting that paramedics were tending to the man for about 10 minutes.

“The rest is just tragic. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

The blaze was under investigation by Novi fire officials and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

Molloy said it does not appear the victims were related, but were co-workers.

Autopsies were expected to be performed Monday morning by the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office, he said.

“Our main goal at this point in time is to identify who the victims are,” Molloy said.

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