A fire that tore through a Hemet apartment complex Friday killed a father and two young girls, whose 8-year-old brother suffered life-threatening injuries.
The fire, which displaced 40 residents, erupted about 1:10 a.m. in the Olive Apartments at 150 N. Alessandro Street, near Latham Avenue, according to the Hemet Police Department.
Agency spokesman Lt. Jeff Davis said that when police and fire personnel reached the location, more than three-quarters of the occupants of the 25-unit two-story complex had already gotten out.
Neighbor Robert Richmond told reporters that a Christmas tree caught fire inside one of the apartments, and the woman and her husband occupying the space with their children were “trying to put it out,” screaming for help.
“Before they knew it, it went up in flames,” Richmond said.
The blaze was raging on the northeast corner of the structure, Davis said, and public safety officials were immediately directed to the location by the distressed woman.
She told authorities that her spouse, identified only as a 41-year-old man named Juan, grabbed their infant and an 11-year-old girl, carrying them to safety, then darted back into the burning building for the rest of his children.
“It’s my understanding that … the 41-year-old male … went back inside to rescue other family members that were not able to get out, and he wasn’t seen alive after that, unfortunately,” Hemet police Lt. Nate Miller said.
According to Davis, firefighters discovered a 4-year-old girl, 12-year-old girl and their dad dead inside the scorched apartment.
“He was a great guy, a great father and loved those kids,” a woman told reporters at the scene.
The family’s 8-year-old son, identified only as Isaac, was rescued, but he suffered extensive injuries and was airlifted to UCI Medical Center in Orange in grave condition, according to the lieutenant.
Red Cross staff were assisting the displaced residents.
An investigation into the exact cause of the fire was underway.