Crime

Lemoore fire kills couple, 3 children

LEMOORE -- A teenage couple and three children died early Saturday when a fast-moving fire swept through an apartment complex, igniting one building after another and destroying nine apartments.

When it was out, firefighters found the bodies of Derik Faubion and his fiancée, Michell Mattison, both 19; their 2-month-old daughter, Hayden Allison Faubion; and two siblings of Mattison who were there for a sleepover.

Lexus May Bisnar, 4, and her brother Ariel Nel Bisnar, 2, were found in the second-floor apartment with Mattison and the baby. Faubion had fallen through the floor and was found below.

The cause is under investigation, and firefighters were at a loss to explain why the five were unable to escape, but neighbors described frantically knocking on doors and yelling for people to flee even as flames began to engulf the structures.

Edna Vega said sirens woke her about 1:30 a.m.

She opened her door to fire and heat.

"I could feel the heat, and embers from the fire were falling on my patio," Vega said.

"I saw the flames really shooting out."

The fire appears to be the deadliest in the area since November 1994, when a mother and four of her children, ages 4 months to 9 years, died in a Visalia house fire.

The Northgate Apartments at 226 E. Hazelwood Drive had shingle roofs and plywood siding, said Ted Schlosser, assistant fire chief for the Lemoore Fire Department.

"It goes up real quick," Schlosser said. "It didn't take it long to spread. The whole roof was fully engulfed when we got here."

Foul play is not suspected, Lemoore Police Chief Kim Morrell said.

Firefighters from the Lemoore and Kings County fire departments responded. The first firefighters arrived in about eight minutes.

Neighbor Lacey Mayhew woke to find the roof of the complex engulfed.

"When I walked out, all I saw were flames," Mayhew said.

Marine Lance Cpl. Darren Jackson lived next door to Faubion and Mattison, but was at his in-laws' house when the fire broke out. Jackson said he returned to find police officers beating on doors, yelling for everyone to get out. He joined the effort.

"We got everyone else out," Jackson said. "I have mixed feelings now. I'm glad my wife and I weren't home, because our roof collapsed. But I wish I had been here to help my neighbors."

Jackson said apartments in the complex had smoke detectors, and apartment managers checked them regularly.

Bernadette Faubion said her son and his fiancée had moved into the apartment complex only a month ago.

"They were going to save money and get married," she said.

Faubion said the couple had met as freshmen at Lemoore High School and were together five years.

Family and friends said Derik Faubion worked at Best Buy Market and Mattison worked at Ramblin' Rose Florist, both in Lemoore.

Faubion enjoyed baseball and skateboarding, his mother said.

His grandfather, Duncan Faubion, said Derik Faubion was proud to be on his own.

"He was determined that nothing was ever going to stop him," he said. "He wanted to take care of his family."

On Saturday evening, mourners filled the apartment of Arnel and Riza Bisnar about a block away from the scene of the fire, some spilling out to the front yard as they recited the Lord's Prayer.

The Bisnars are the parents of Lexus and Ariel, and Riza Bisnar is Michell Mattison's mother.

"It's terrible what happened to my kids," Arnel Bisnar said.

Lexus and Ariel's mother had left the children at the apartment for Mattison to watch for a few hours, Schlosser said. When she returned, he said, they were asleep, so she agreed to let them stay the night.

Lexus was about to enter preschool, Bisnar said. He described her as a smart girl who liked to dance.

"They always played with me," he said.

Alan Mattison, Michell Mattison's father, was overcome with emotion after the prayers were recited at the Bisnar home.

"She is my whole world," he said. "It's unimaginable pain."

The fire destroyed nine of the 23 units at Northgate Apartments and displaced more than a dozen people, officials said.

Damage was estimated at more than $1 million.

"This is a dark day in the life of Lemoore," Mayor John Murray said.

"Our hearts go out to those who have lost children."

The American Red Cross set up a temporary shelter in a community center even as the fire was still burning.

By Saturday afternoon, the shelter was empty as displaced residents moved to local hotels.

Late Saturday, about two dozen gathered for a candlelight vigil at the complex.

K'Dawn Chavez was among friends of the victims who planted five white crosses in the ground.

"This was always our hangout," Chavez said. "We came over here to play with the baby."

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