MERCED — A father and two 5-year-old children died Tuesday morning in a fire at a duplex on East 10th Street in Merced.
The father and mother and a 13-month-old girl managed to escape the flames through a window, but the 31-year-old father climbed back through the same window when he realized two other two children, a boy and girl both 5 years old, were still trapped inside the burning home, Merced Fire Battalion Chief Don Roe said.
They never came back out.
The mom and baby were transported to Mercy (hospital) and then to a hospital in Fresno, Roe said. The mom had some smoke inhalation.
The names of the victims have not been released.
The 28-year-old mother and baby are expected to recover.
Neighbors described a desperate, chaotic scene outside the home at 264 E. 10th St. with flames and smoke shooting out the apartments windows and doors and people screaming in the street.
Neighbor Feuy Saellee was sleeping when her sister woke her up around 1 a.m. She heard screaming and I looked out the window and saw flames, Saellee recalled. The flame was very big, very high.
City firefighters responded at 12:34 a.m. and found the home engulfed in flames. Roe said it took 16 firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish the flames inside. The neighboring home in the duplex sustained some minor smoke damage and the residents there were not injured.
City police and firefighters are conducting a joint investigation and have not ruled out any possible causes of the fire. Flames gutted the structure, but a damage estimate was still being calculated Tuesday morning, Roe said.
As the smoke subsided, dozens of neighbors gathered outside the roped-off scene, huddled together on lawn chairs, holding children on their laps as a light rain fell.
They were my friends, said 9-year-old Kimberly Lua, who stood outside with her father. She was sleeping when the fire started and awoke when she heard her mother crying. They got their little baby out, but he (the father) went back through that big window.
Amid the confusing and scrambling of the fatal fire, an unrelated second fire broke out around 6:30 a.m. at 416 W. 12th St., firefighters said.
Merced police arrested a woman who apparently started the fire intentionally following an argument with her boyfriend, police Capt. Tom Trindad confirmed.
No one was injured.
It was not clear how the woman started the fire or exactly how much damage was done.
Tuesdays incident was the second fatal fire in Merced in the last week. The body of 32-year-old James Tilghman Jr. was found Nov. 26 in a burning home at 1670 E. 21st St. The cause of his death and the fire remain under investigation.
Reporter Rob Parsons can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 385-2482.