A father and two 5-year-old children died Tuesday morning in a fire at a duplex on East 10th Street in Merced.
Initially, 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 children, a boy and girl, still were trapped inside the burning home, Merced Fire Battalion Chief Don Roe said.
They didn't make it out.
The names of the victims were not released Tuesday.
The 28-year-old mother and baby are expected to recover. "The mom and baby were transported to Mercy (hospital) and then to a hospital in Fresno," Roe said. "The mom had some smoke inhalation."
Fire Capt. Billy Alcorn said the blaze appears to have started in the living room, but the cause had not been determined Tuesday evening.
Neighbors described a desperate, chaotic scene outside the duplex at 264 E. 10th St. with flames and smoke shooting out the unit's windows and doors as people stood 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 apartment engulfed in flames. Roe said it took 16 firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish the blaze. The neighboring unit in the duplex sustained minor smoke damage, but the residents there were not hurt.
City police and firefighters are conducting a joint investigation and have not ruled out any possible causes of the fire.
Flames gutted the unit, and Alcorn called it "a total loss." A damage estimate was not available.
As the smoke subsided early Tuesday morning, dozens of neighbors gathered outside the roped-off scene, huddling together on lawn chairs and 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."
Tuesday's fatal fire was the second 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.
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