SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two people were killed and five others were injured, including a firefighter, in an early morning fire Wednesday at a group home for developmentally disabled women in California, authorities said.
The blaze broke out about 5:45 a.m. in a Santa Ana neighborhood, according to Orange County Fire Authority spokesman Steve Concialdi.
The caretaker, a 71-year-old woman, was in the kitchen preparing food for the day when a smoke alarm went off, Concialdi said. She found a mattress on fire in one of two front bedrooms, and the flames quickly spread to the rest of the house, he said.
The caretaker was critically injured while attempting to rescue residents, sustaining burns to her face and arms, and had to be rescued from the house herself by firefighters, Concialdi said.
Three other women, between 30 and 60, were hospitalized with serious injuries — possibly smoke inhalation — and one firefighter was treated at a hospital for burns to his hand from flames that ate through his protective glove.
Arriving firefighters found the house and its garage consumed in flames. At least 50 firefighters from multiple agencies knocked down the fire in about half an hour.
Two women, 48 and 52, were killed. One was found in her bed and another was discovered on the floor next to a bed, Concialdi said.
Concialdi said the house had a smoke detector in every room and the detectors that were not destroyed by the fire were functional.
Co-owner Gloria V. Uy told the Fire Authority at the scene that a fire drill had recently been conducted. Concialdi could not immediately verify that but said it would have been reported to state authorities in charge of licensing.
Uy told The Associated Press that she and her sister, the caretaker, have owned the home since 2006 and were licensed for six residents but had only five. She said the residents slept in three bedrooms, two each in two of the rooms and one in a third room. She said her sister slept in a fourth bedroom.
“I’ve had it a long time,” she said. “They’re like my family.”
Neighbor Hugo Montes, 35, was getting into his truck to go to work when he heard a smoke alarm going off two houses down. He said he went to investigate and saw smoke coming from a bedroom near a patio.
The window was slightly ajar so he wrenched it open and dragged out the mattress that was on fire, but by that point “the flames were spreading to the wall,” Montes said. The caregiver was also in the room trying to beat out the fire with a blanket, he said.
“I told her to get everyone out. She was just in shock. She looked at me and couldn’t say a word,” he said.
Montes then ran to his house to get a hose and call 911. By the time he got back a few minutes later, the house was fully engulfed in flames and the caregiver had rescued two other residents and was outside pacing.
When he asked her if there was anyone else inside, she pointed inside and held up two fingers, he said.
“She was walking in circles, walking in circles in the driveway. She wasn’t screaming, she was quiet but just crying and crying,” he said. “I felt helpless. I wanted to do more than I could.”
Firefighters rescued one other woman, he said.
The address is known as Mary’s Home and licensed for the care of up to six people with developmental disabilities who require 24-hour non-medical care, according to the state’s Community Care Licensing Division online database. Uy said the residents had mental disabilities.
The single-story, four-bedroom home was completely destroyed.
The cause of the blaze was under investigation.
Associated Press Writer Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.