WACO, Texas -- Flames the FBI said were ignited by members of the David Koresh cult turned his Branch Davidian compound into an inferno Monday, causing 'a massive loss of life' and bringing an end to a 51-day standoff with federal officers.
The death toll in the fire could run as high as 88 people, including the cult leader, although the exact number and identities of the dead within the charred ruins may not be known for several days.
Koresh, who claimed he was the lamb of God and would ultimately be destroyed in apocalyptic event, had claimed 96 people were inside the wood-frame Mount Carmel compound, including 17 children. The FBI said only nine people survived the fire.
The fast-spreading flames were touched off after the FBI used an armored vehicle to smash huge holes in the compound walls and sprayed in tear gas in an effort to end the long siege.
'We can assume there was a massive loss of life,' said FBI special agent Bob Ricks. 'It was truly an inferno of flames. We have to assume the children are dead.
'There were statements early (in the siege) that the children were in bunkers. But this was one final lie by Koresh to assure some people the children were taken care of. His last, final act to the American people was to go through a lie.'
The almost two-month ordeal began with four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms dying in a shootout with cult members while trying to serve a warrant on Koresh.
It ended in flames after the FBI assault Monday morning. Six hours after that action began, smoke appeared from an upstairs room in the compound. Moments later, there were flames. And within minutes, the building was consumed by fire.