GREENVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Chad and Nikki Watson moved around western Kentucky over the years before returning to Muhlenberg County - the coal-laden ground where they both grew up - to raise their nine children in a home owned by a relative.
Eight of those children and their mother died in that house early Thursday morning after a blaze tore through the structure. Only the father, 36-year-old Chad Watson and an 11-year-old daughter, Kylie Watson, survived.
Kentucky State Police Trooper Stu Recke said 35-year-old LaRae "Nikki" Watson and her children were found in the master bedroom of the home, part of which had collapsed during the blaze. Recke said that could be an indication they were trying to escape through a window, but investigators weren't sure.
Relative Ricky Keith described the Watsons as a loving couple who worked hard to provide for their children.
"I don't know how they made it as long as they had. They've struggled as long as I've known them, but they loved one another, I know that and they loved them kids," Keith said.
Along with Nikki Watson, the remains of 15-year-old Madison Watson, 14-year-old Kaitlyn Watson, 13-year-old Morgan Watson, 9-year-old Emily Watson, 8-year-old Samuel Watson, 6-year-old Raegan Watson and 4-year-old twin brothers Mark and Nathaniel Watson were retrieved from the burned-out structure by Thursday afternoon.
Chad Watson and Kylie Watson remained hospitalized Friday morning at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., in critical but stable condition.
Investigators say the fire in the community of Depoy, just west of Greenville and about 130 miles southwest of Louisville, started when a combustible material fell against an electric baseboard heater.
Recke said the nighttime temperatures dipped into the teens and single-digits. There's no indication of foul play, he said.
Muhlenberg County Judge-Executive Rick Newman said grief counselors would be meeting with first responders Friday. School Superintendent Rick McCarty said counselors were being made available to students and staff.
Recke described the region as "a rural area where everybody knows everybody." The house is in a small neighborhood of single-family dwellings, trailers and farmland.
"The whole county is close. You've got a very small community, everybody knows everybody," Newman said. "They know their business, their hardships, the whole deal."
The side and roof of the small, white-wood frame house with three bedrooms and an enclosed porch collapsed around the chimney. In front of the house, a white van stood on a concrete parking pad. At least five kids' bikes and a child's riding toy were strewn about the yard near a swing set.
Keith said the home was "wore out" and the children played constantly outside.
"They kept them in the yard and didn't let them out of their sight," Keith said.
Several first responders lived near the home and reported that the house was fully engulfed when they arrived within minutes of getting the call, Recke said.
Newman said he worries about the neighbors and first responders in the area. While the county had seen coal miners die, the deaths of nine family members is nearly unheard of.
"This is a strong community," Newman said. "But, man, I'm telling you, it's difficult."
Thursday's blaze was Kentucky's third fire in a little more than a year that has killed five or more people. Last January, four children under 6 and their father were killed in a blaze near Pikeville in eastern Kentucky that also severely burned their mother. Authorities said the home lacked a smoke detector.
In March, a fire at a home in the southern Kentucky community of Gray killed a young couple and five children, the oldest of whom was 3.
Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere contributed to this report from Louisville, Ky. Reporter Bruce Schreiner contributed from Frankfort, Ky. Reporter Dylan Lovan contributed from Greenville, Ky.
LONDON (AP) -- Russian men who down large amounts of vodka - and too many do - have an "extraordinarily" high risk of an early death, a new study says.
Researchers tracked about 151,000 adult men in the Russian cities of Barnaul, Byisk and Tomsk from 1999 to 2010. They interviewed them about their drinking habits and, when about 8,000 later died, followed up to monitor their causes of death.
The risk of dying before age 55 for those who said they drank three or more half-liter bottles of vodka a week was a shocking 35 percent.
Overall, a quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7 percent of men in the United Kingdom and less than 1 percent in the United States. The life expectancy for men in Russia is 64 years - placing it among the lowest 50 countries in the world in that category.
It's not clear how many Russian men drink three bottles or more a week. Lead researcher Sir Richard Peto of Oxford University said the average Russian adult drinks 20 liters of vodka per year while the average Briton drinks about three liters of spirits.
"Russians clearly drink a lot, but it's this pattern of getting really smashed on vodka and then continuing to drink that is dangerous," Peto said.
"The rate of men dying prematurely in Russia is totally out of line with the rest of Europe," he said. "There's also a heavy drinking culture in Finland and Poland but they still have nothing like Russia's risk of death."
Alcohol has long been a top killer in Russia and vodka is often the drink of choice, available cheaply and often homemade in small villages. Previous studies have estimated that more than 40 percent of working-age men in Russia die because they drink too much, including using alcohol that is not meant to be consumed like that in colognes and antiseptics.
Drinking is so engrained in Russian culture there's a word that describes a drinking binge that lasts several days: "zapoi."
Peto said there was some evidence of a similar effect in Russian women who also drank heavily but there was not enough data to draw a broad conclusion.
The study was paid for by the U.K. Medical Research Council and others. It was published online Thursday in the journal Lancet.
Other experts said the Russian preference for hard liquor was particularly dangerous.
"If you're drinking vodka, you get a lot more ethanol in that than if you were drinking something like lager," said David Leon, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has also studied the impact of alcohol in Russia but was not part of the Lancet study.
He said changing drinking patterns in Russia to combat the problem was possible but that it would take a significant cultural adjustments.
"It's not considered out-of-order to drink until you can't function in Russia," Leon said. "It just seems to be part of being a guy in Russia that you are expected to drink heavily."
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Drugmaker Merck & Co. is joining two dozen other pharmaceutical companies and contract laboratories in committing to not use chimpanzees for research.
The growing trend could mean roughly 1,000 chimps in the U.S. used for research or warehoused for many years in laboratory cages could be "retired" to sanctuaries by around 2020.
That's according to Kathleen Conlee of the Humane Society of the United States, which seven years ago began urging companies to phase out all chimp research.
The trend is driven by improved technology, animal alternatives and pressure from animal rights groups, the National Institutes of Health and Congress.
Last June, reacting to an Institute of Medicine study Congress had requested that concluded nearly all chimp research is unnecessary, the NIH announced it would retire and send about 90 percent of government-owned research chimps to the Chimp Haven sanctuary in Keithville, La. It's now home to about 160 chimps, with nearly 60 more to arrive soon.
After several years, the NIH plans to decide whether the remaining chimps in government labs can also be moved to sanctuaries. Roughly 450 other chimps are owned by private labs that do research under contract for drugmakers and other companies.
"It's been a long road in trying to end the use of chimpanzees in research, and we're now at a turning point," Conlee told The Associated Press Thursday. "We're going to keep on (advocating) until the chimpanzees in laboratories are all in sanctuaries."
Merck spokeswoman Caroline Lappetito said the company, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., decided late last year to stop research on chimpanzees and switch to alternative types of testing.
"The science has advanced, and we don't really need it," Lappetito said.
Merck, the world's third-biggest drugmaker, is the largest to make the switch.
Companies that develop medicines and consumer products such as cosmetics have long used animals to test safety and effectiveness. In the case of experimental medicines, drugmakers must test on animals before the Food and Drug Administration will let them do the human testing needed for approval of a new therapy.
Nearly all animal experiments in the U.S. involve mice, rats and guinea pigs, although some are done on dogs and great apes, almost always chimpanzees.
But animal research, particularly on primates and pet species such as dogs and rabbits, has long drawn criticism from animal rights groups, including protests outside laboratories and at annual shareholder meetings. Besides calling the practice inhumane, activists often have alleged - and sometimes proven - that animals were being abused.
Many companies previously said it was necessary to test potential medicines and vaccines on nonhuman primates because they needed an animal in which the anatomy and disease course were very similar to that in humans.
That thinking changed as technology allowed researchers to do initial testing via computer simulations, in bacteria or cells, and in animals as small as fish. Many drugmakers also found ways to do testing on far fewer animals and to limit the discomfort of experiments by using painkillers and tranquilizers. And many of the companies pledging not to use chimps in the future never did so.
British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC was one of the first to stop research in chimps, back in 2008.
"Research we did on nonhuman primates was kept to a minimum" even before that, said spokeswoman Melinda Stubee.
Because chimpanzees used for commercial medical research generally are confined in the labs of contract testing companies, Conlee said the Humane Society is trying to convince them that there's no longer enough demand to continue warehousing chimpanzees for potential future work. She hopes they'll pay to support those chimpanzees in one of five U.S. accredited sanctuaries for former research chimps.