‘Tragic scene’ at Santa Ana home for disabled
2 dead, 5 hurt in ‘tragic scene’ at Santa Ana home for disabled
By CLAUDIA KOERNER, ALYSSA DURANTY and SCOTT SCHWEBKE / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
SANTA ANA – A fire sparked by an electrical failure in an electronic device destroyed a home for adults with disabilities Wednesday morning, leaving two women dead and five others injured.
The fire began at a home in the 2100 block of North Hathaway Street about 5:45 a.m. When firefighters arrived, several residents were trapped in the home, which is licensed as an adult residential facility for people with physical and developmental disabilities.
By 6:15 a.m., the fire was under control, and five people were injured. They were taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. A 71-year-old female caregiver was in serious condition with burns, and a firefighter and three residents suffered other injuries, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said.
Two women, a 48-year-old and a 52-year-old, were pronounced dead at the scene, both found in bedrooms.
“When our firefighters arrived, there was so much fire,” Concialdi said. “This is a tragic scene.”
Early morning blaze
The caregiver told officials that she was making breakfast when she heard a smoke alarm in another part of the home, Concialdi said. With her help, two residents were safely evacuated.
As firefighters arrived, neighbors told them about the people inside, he added. When the caregiver attempted to re-enter the burning home for the remaining residents, firefighters had to escort her away, Concialdi said. About 50 firefighters responded, attacking the burning garage and house from both sides of the structure.
A third resident who had been asleep on a couch was evacuated, and in the process, one firefighter was burned through his glove, Concialdi said.
“The fire was so intense, he suffered first- and second-degree burns,” he said.
Neighbor Hugo Montes first smelled smoke as he was walking to his van around 5:45 a.m. He went to the home and saw flames through a window. Inside, a mattress was on fire and the caregiver was trying to put it out with a blanket, he said. He looked for a hose and, not finding one, ran back to his house. When he returned, the home was engulfed in flames, he said. He could hear screams inside.
“This isn’t happening,” he said.
Fire investigators confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the fire began in a bedroom. Damage was estimated at $250,000 to the structure and $125,000 to its contents.
“The most probable cause is an accidental fire,” Concialdi said. “It was an electrical failure in a personal electronic device.”
The device was destroyed in the flames, making it not immediately identifiable, he added.
Community care home
The state’s Community Care Licensing Division shows the facility is known as Mary’s Home and licensed for the care of up to six people with developmental disabilities. Concialdi said the residents were women in their 30s-50s.
The residents got along well, and the home aimed to be a loving environment, said Gloria Uy, who holds the state license for Mary’s Home. Her sister, Lolita Camacho, was the caregiver, her son owns the property and the home was their life’s work, she said. It had operated in the Hathaway Street house about seven years.
As she watched firefighters take blackened debris from the building, she said the outlook of her sister’s condition was good. The home had been equipped with smoke detectors throughout bedrooms and common areas, she added, but the extent of damage – and loss of life – was a shock.
“It went so fast,” she said.
As mandated under the home’s license, residents had recently participated in a fire drill, Concialdi said. State regulations require care-home operators to time evacuation and practice reaching a designated meeting spot.
He added the fast-moving fire showed the importance of functional smoke alarms in all homes.
“They provide the critical seconds to alert residents and occupants of a fire in their home,” he said.
As a small, residential facility, the home was not required to have fire sprinklers.
Supervision and guidance
The home is one of about 300 local licensed community care homes, said Larry Landauer, executive director of the Regional Center of Orange County. The nonprofit center connects people with developmental disabilities to services and administers some of the homes’ funding.
Daily routines for residents often include heading to work or day programs, he said. The single-family homes aim to blend into their neighborhoods, he added, and staff are available for “supervision and guidance” with daily tasks.
On Wednesday, the Regional Center was helping to notify residents’ relatives, he said.
“Everybody’s heartfelt sympathies go out for the families,” he said.