The mother of three children who nearly lost their lives in a southwest Fresno apartment fire Sunday has been arrested on felony charges of child cruelty, police said.
Police said Jamela Vanessa Brown, 19, left her 1-, 3- and 4-year-old children for at least 30 minutes while she walked to a store more than half a mile away. While she was gone, a fire broke out, filling the apartment with toxic black smoke. Firefighters responding to the apartment at 851 E. Church Ave. found the three children unconscious, the television on fire and the home engulfed in smoke.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said the children remain in critical but stable condition at Valley Children’s Hospital and are being treated for severe smoke inhalation. The 3-year-old girl has a minor burn on her left palm. He said they are sedated and breathing with the help of ventilators, but the 1-year-old boy is suffering complications. Doctors believe all three will recover but will have ongoing medical conditions, he said.
Dyer said the children likely would have died had firefighters arrived three to five minutes later.
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Brown had just returned from the store when she saw her apartment was on fire, Dyer said. She notified firefighters that her three children were inside and unlocked the security door so they could complete the rescue. Dyer said she had the only key available to the security door.
Brown initially told investigators that she left her children with an adult man while she went to Zack’s Market at 854 E. California Ave. On the way back, she saw smoke and heard sirens. When she got to the apartment complex, someone told her it was her home on fire. That’s when she told firefighters her children were inside.
Investigators found Brown lied. She did not leave her three children with an adult; they were alone. Further, she had locked the security door and the sliding glass back door, preventing them from escaping the fire.
Detectives arrested Brown Wednesday afternoon for willful cruelty to a child likely to cause great bodily injury or death.
“Without a doubt she placed those children in grave danger,” Dyer said. “We are very fortunate today that we don’t have three dead children in the city of Fresno.”
Fire Chief Kerri Donis said the fire originated from the entertainment center, which included a TV, DVD player and other plastics around the electrical area. She said fire investigators have not determined the exact cause yet.
Dyer said Brown has prior arrests including petty theft and what he called a domestic situation.