HEMET, Calif. (AP) — A fast moving fire in a Southern California apartment complex Friday killed two girls and their father, who died after he got some of the family to safety but returned to try to rescue his other children, police said.
The man’s 8-year-old son was also found gravely injured in the apartment in the city of Hemet and was flown to a hospital, Hemet police spokesman Lt. Jeff Davis said in a statement.
The family of seven was asleep when the fire broke out in their second-floor unit in the apartment complex in Hemet, 75 miles (120 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, said Lt. Nate Miller.
The 41-year-old father got his wife, their infant and their 11-year-old child out of the apartment and then went back to try to save their other children, Davis said. The girls who died were ages 12 and 4.
Another person who lived in the complex, Steve Avalos, said with tears in his eyes that he evacuated his own family but it was too late for him to try to help his neighbors, The Press-Enterprise newspaper reported.
“It’s terrible to go from the happiest day of the year to a night you think will never happen,” Avalos said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
The wife of the man who died told police the fire started in their apartment, Davis said in the statement. The cause was under investigation but Miller said there was nothing to indicate any criminal aspect to the fire.
It was difficult for firefighters to prevent the blaze from spreading to other apartment units, Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown told The Press-Enterprise.
“The fire burned very rapidly, consumed everything in that apartment very quickly and unfortunately it led to … death,” Brown said.
The names of the victims were not immediately made public. The American Red Cross was caring for 15 people displaced by the fire, said Emily Cox, regional communications director.
Neighbors who live across the street from the complex said they awoke to screaming and pops that sounded like something was exploding, the Press-Enterprise reported.
“The screaming was the first thing I heard,” Jacki Aguilar said. “A man was screaming and crying.”
Guadalupe Feregrino told the newspaper the popping sounds woke him up. He ran outside, where he found a girl crying for her father.
Feregrino said he was heartbroken he could do nothing more than call 911.
“It was too late,” he said.