A mother and her children saw their home catch fire Monday, but they could have lost a lot more during a dramatic escape from their burning central Fresno apartment.
Roseanna Montoya said she was changing her clothes when she heard people on the bottom story of her building at 815 E. Belmont Ave. This bottom story is a vacant, boarded-up warehouse, she said, and squatters are always lighting fires inside “to barbecue or something.”
“I was just saying those guys were going to burn the place down one day,” Montoya said. “And then 30 seconds later my daughter ran in screaming ‘Mom, we have to get out!’”
Montoya opened her door to find her apartment filling with smoke. She got her two children, 9 and 14, and ran down the stairs. She remembered to grab her car keys, but nothing else.
When the family reached the chain-link fence outside their apartment, it was locked. By then, the fire had spread across the bottom floor and into their unit – just a few feet from where they were standing. Montoya has a key to open the fence, but in her haste, she forgot it.
“I started screaming for my neighbor,” Montoya said. “But I guess because his house wasn’t the one burning, he took his time.”
Concerned onlookers attempted to break the fence to get Montoya and her children out, but they couldn’t. The neighbor eventually ran down the stairs and unlocked it, and everyone escaped without any serious injury.
Montoya said her third child, 16, was not home during the fire. Still, they lost their home and most of their possessions. Their landlord has offered to put them up into a hotel, she said. A friend has also given them a place to stay. Montoya planned to wait for the American Red Cross to show up before she would plot her next move.
Fresno Fire Department spokesman Hector Vasquez said the first 911 call came in around 4:45 p.m. Firefighters believed the Montoyas were still inside, and the first unit arrived within four minutes. The family had escaped by then, but heavy smoke and flames filled the air.
Montoya and her two children were treated for minor smoke inhalation at the scene and released, Vasquez said.
Vasquez said the fire is believed to have started in the vacant warehouse. An investigator was called in to determine the exact cause. The extent of the damage was not known, but Montoya’s apartment is no longer livable, he added.