The fire that nearly took the lives of three young children at a southwest Fresno apartment Sunday was caused by an electrical issue around the entertainment center, the Fresno Fire Department said Tuesday.
Fire spokesman Pete Martinez said the fire was determined to be an accident. Meanwhile, the three children, who were alone in the apartment when the fire broke out, remained in critical condition Tuesday afternoon, he said.
The children’s mother, who neighbors said was returning from the store just after the fire broke out, is cooperating with a police investigation into why the children were left alone.
Firefighters responding to the fire at 851 E. Church Ave. found the three children unconscious — a boy and two girls ages 1, 3 and 4, respectively.
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They were conscious Monday afternoon at Valley Children’s Hospital, said Lt. Jeff Motoyasu.
He said the 3-year-old has a minor burn on her hand, and all three were treated for smoke inhalation.
Motoyasu confirmed the children were unattended when the fire broke out.
Police believe it was an accident that stemmed from the television, though the investigation won’t be finished for a couple more days.
The children’s mother arrived after the fire started, Motoyasu said, and has talked with police. He declined to provide details about what she has told them.
Motoyasu said the children have been placed in Child Protective Services custody and cannot be released back to the mother at least until the investigation is complete.
Fire department spokesman Pete Martinez said the blaze caused $50,000 in damage, mostly smoke-related.
Brandi Hutchinson, senior portfolio manager at Westgate Gardens, said the family moved into the apartment less than a month ago.
Neighbor Crystal Rodriguez said she heard an explosion that sounded like a homemade firework — a really loud pop — and then a woman screaming.
“We were standing here pretty much watching the apartment burn from the inside,” she said. “Nobody thought there would be three little babies inside.”
When she came outside, Rodriguez didn’t see a lot of smoke at first.
But then black smoke came billowing out of the vents and pipes.
Rodriguez said another neighbor told her the children’s mother had a bag in her hand, returning home from the store, when she saw the fire coming from her apartment.
As several people called 911, Rodriguez saw the mother tell bystanders that her children were in a bedroom and broke a window at the back of the apartment to get them out. Then she realized it was the wrong bedroom, so a neighbor broke another window.
By then firefighters had arrived, Rodriguez said, and yelled for people to stop breaking windows.
One firefighter inside the smoky apartment handed the youngest baby through the broken window to another firefighter standing outside.
Then the firefighter handed out a second child.
Rodriguez said the children looked like they were covered in soot.
“I thought they were dead,” she said. “They were just limp.”
At that point, the mother ran to the other side of the apartment, saying there was one more child left inside. Rodriguez said the mother was on the phone the entire time.
Eventually, she said, the woman got in a car at the front of the complex and left.