Officials seek cause of fire that traps squatters, killing 5
Dec. 14, 2015
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Investigators on Monday worked to uncover what ignited a fire at an abandoned home in central California that trapped a group of squatters, killing five people and critically injuring another who tried to flee out the only open window.
Firefighters found the six victims in one of the bedrooms, where it appeared they were trying to smash a window to escape the flames and thick smoke engulfing the boarded-up home in Fresno on Sunday.
One of the sealed windows had been pried open, and that was the only way to get in or out of the house, Battalion Chief Lawrence French said. That's also where the fire was the most intense, he said.
A neighbor told police he heard people screaming for help and pounding against a window, French said.
Four died at the scene, and the other died at a hospital. The injured person was reported to be in critical condition at Community Regional Medical Center, according to the Fresno Bee (http://bit.ly/1QmTOOs ).
The Fresno County coroner's office identified the victims as Irene Hinojos, 36, Monique Amaral, 28, Anthony Zavala, 37, Patricia Zambrano, 34, and William Morales, 56.
Zavala's cousin, Juan Castillo Jr., told the newspaper that the victims were not homeless but sought the shelter of abandoned buildings to deal with personal issues and to keep warm.
"They do have homes. Some of us just have hard times and don't know how to deal with it," he said.
Fresno fire spokesman Pete Martinez said it looked like the victims may have died from smoke inhalation but that the cause of the deaths has not been determined.
Investigators were looking for witnesses and video footage to find what sparked the blaze, Martinez said.
"We have to rely on footwork, getting statements from neighbors," he told The Associated Press. "That's just a lot of hard work."