An apartment complex in Hemet, California, set on fire on Friday early morning, Dec. 27, resulting in three people dead—a father and his two daughters.
The victims were 41-year-old Juan Moreno and Moreno’s 4-year-old Janessa and 12-year-old Maria. Moreno’s 8-year-old son was airlifted and is listed in grave condition. His wife and two other children, including a newborn, made it out okay, authorities said.
Firefighters said the father died as he was trying to rescue the daughters from inside the home.
The fire started in the family’s Christmas tree, right next to the front door.
A woman identified by neighbors as Christina McCraw was trying to go back into the apartment after the father made it out…neighbors said he then went back inside to rescue his children, Fox 11 Los Angeles reported.
“It broke my heart so bad because I never experienced this,” stated neighbor Francisco Paez, who lives next door to the family of seven. He said the mother pounded on his door as she left with her small baby and 11-year-old daughter, but it was already too late. Paez said he tried his best to go in but just couldn’t. “The flames were too high, I just couldn’t I tried … I tried,” Paez said.
Alyssa Moreno, who lives in the building next to the apartment complex, recalled the tragedy as the image of a mother with deep trembling screaming. She said she did her best to console the mother and her 11-year-old daughter.
“She kept wanting to go run back in to save her dad and her siblings. And it seemed an 11-year-old so strong-hearted and wanting to risk her own life to go save her siblings was just a miracle to watch,” added Moreno.
A total of 40 residents have been displaced from the fire and are now without a home during the holidays. Firefighters were able to contain the fire to the family’s apartment.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Moreno’s wife and surviving children.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.