NATIONAL CITY — The fire that killed two small children Tuesday afternoon swept through their tiny apartment much faster than a routine residential fire, National City fire officials said Wednesday.
The apartment's large open windows overlooking B and 8th streets provided a steady supply of oxygen, which accelerated the fire, said National City Fire Chief Randy Kimball.
Also, the tiny one-bedroom apartment was cluttered with "enough furniture for two apartments," which gave the fire plenty of fuel, Kimball said.
Firefighters found Jamie White, 4, and her sister, Sherry White, 3, huddled in the bathroom beneath debris left from the fire that swept through the apartment they shared with their mother, Linda Mortenson, and her boyfriend, Mike Gusta.
Gusta, who was working at the North Island Air Naval Station when the fire started, said Mortenson had just moved to San Diego with her two daughters from Murray, Utah.
Fire investigators are still probing the cause, but Mortenson, 27, told police Tuesday she believes the two children were playing with matches when the fire started.
Mortenson told police Wednesday she had just completed a bath when Jamie ran into the bathroom yelling, "Mommy, there's a fire!"
Mortenson told her two daughters to leave the one-bedroom apartment while she tried to extinguish the fire in the living room, which she told police "appeared to get bigger every time (she) threw water on it," said police Sgt. Mike Connelly.
After four or five trips to the faucet, she finally realized she could not control the fire and tried to grab her children, who hadn't left the apartment, Connelly said.
Mortenson told police her children ran away from her into the bedroom and eventually to the bathroom where firefighters found them, Connelly said.
Mortenson fled the apartment building yelling for help.
Mortenson was questioned by police a second time Wednesday because, according to Connelly, the county's child protection services division required an additional statement to "clear up any question of child neglect."
When firefighters arrived about 20 minutes after the fire broke out, flames were shooting through the windows and there was no chance of rescuing the two children trapped inside the building.
The six other apartments and businesses in the building suffered minimal smoke and water damage, officials said.