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Apartment Fire Kills 12 in Tijuana

April 29, 1996

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) _ A fire brought down the roof of a rundown apartment building in a working-class district of Tijuana, trapping 12 people who burned to death and injuring four others.

Maria Esther Gomez Gonzalez managed to get to the building’s only exit during the Sunday morning fire, but she left behind one of her best friends who, along with her husband, was pinned under the roof.

``She was trapped on the top floor,″ said Gomez, 18. ``She couldn’t get out and she was calling to me, but I live on the bottom floor and I screamed to her, `I can’t get up there.‴

Many others could not pass stairwells blocked by flames or lived in windowless apartments with doors barricaded by the fallen roof and flames.

The bodies were completely burned, said firefighter Martin Alvarez. One of the dead was a 12- or 13-year-old boy, a coroner’s spokesman said.

Forty tenants spent the night in a shelter because of the fire, including Gomez. She said the fire burned a life savings of about $180 that was stashed in a wooden box.

Many tenants said they rented the 9 foot-by-9 foot rooms for $30 a week because that was all they could afford.

Gomez and other tenants said the building was always in disrepair. Some doors were made from rotting, splintered wood. Some tenants didn’t have electricity for weeks on end, and the rent remained the same whether the apartments had utilities or not.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation. No inspectors would arrive until today because ``they don’t work on Sunday,″ a firefighter said.

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