During a desperate search of his burning St. Paul home, Peter "Dao" Yang must have passed by his missing daughter three or four times as she lay on the floor under a bunk bed, he said in an interview Tuesday.

She didn't respond when he called her name despite the numerous times he rushed in and out of the house looking for her.

Four-year-old Ntshialiag (pronounced Chialia) was discovered by firefighters in a second-floor bedroom after they arrived at Yang's home on Sunday night. She was later pronounced dead at the hospital, becoming St. Paul's first fire fatality of the year.

"I never thought she would be hiding … I believe she was too scared or something, or afraid," Yang said on Tuesday, his eyes red from crying, as he waited for family members to arrive at his son's house to share their condolences.

Authorities didn't give any more details Tuesday about what might have started the weekend blaze, saying that the case is still under investigation.

On Sunday night about 8:30 p.m., fire crews were called to the Yangs' home on the 500 block of E. Jessamine Avenue in the city's Payne-Phalen neighborhood.

While Yang was able to get his wife, four other daughters and his elderly mother out of the house, he wasn't able to rescue Ntshialiag, though he ventured into the smoky house six or seven time to look for her.

"I feel guilty that I could not save my daughter," Yang said Tuesday, his eyes welling up with tears as he held his youngest daughter in his lap. "I saved the three older ones and the youngest one. I rescued my wife and I rescued my mother, but I couldn't do anything to help my four-year-old daughter."

Yang, who was born in Laos and came to Minnesota in the 1980s, said that he was upstairs Sunday night. Ntshialiag shared some ice cream with him. Then, he thought, she went downstairs to watch a movie with her sisters. A few minutes later, Yang's 10-year-old daughter told him, "Daddy, there's a fire."

Yang rushed through the house and found flames climbing the curtains of his mother's bedroom. He was able to call out to his wife, who carried the baby, and push her and his other daughters out the door of the house. Yang, with his shirt over his head to try to block out the smoke, found his mother in the bathroom and got her outside to the back yard.

Yang tried over and over to search for Ntshialiag, but he couldn't find her.

Yang said he's unsure about how the fire started. There weren't any candles in his mother's bedroom, he said.

On Tuesday, Yang turned 59. It was supposed to be a happy day. He and Ntshialiag had planned to celebrate both of their birthdays together since they were little more than a week apart. Instead, her mother went to the store to pick out a suit for Ntshialiag to wear for her funeral.

Ntshialiag didn't like to wear dresses and "never touched any girl stuff," Yang said. "She told me that she's not a girl — 'Daddy, I'm a boy.' "

Ntshialiag and her father were inseparable, he said.

"She was one of my favorites," said Yang, who has 11 daughters and 7 sons, including those he has adopted.

Yang's family is accepting donations of money and goods such as clothing and hygiene products to help the surviving members of the family.

"Thank you … for the love, for the help," said Yang, referring to the outpouring of support from community members. About $4,000 had been donated as of Tuesday night.

For more details on how to donate, visit the family's fundraiser page.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

Twitter: @stribnorfleet