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2 Children Die, 2 Firefighters Injured in Chino Hills Blaze

A mother, gone for 10 minutes to walk a child to a bus stop, returns to find a roaring fire. A passerby kept her from entering the house.

September 24, 2003|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

Two young children were killed Tuesday morning in a fire at a Chino Hills home that broke out while their mother walked their older brother to a school bus stop, authorities and neighbors said.

Two Chino Valley Fire District firefighters were injured attempting to rescue the 1-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy, who were asleep when Elvira Rodriguez left the house in the 15200 block of Carmelita Avenue shortly before 8 a.m.

Neighbors said Rodriguez returned less than 10 minutes later, opened the front door and screamed at the sight of flames engulfing the interior of the two-bedroom stucco home.

Sheri Denzin was taking her granddaughter to school and driving down Carmelita when she spotted the column of smoke and saw Rodriguez standing in a driveway screaming, "My children!" in Spanish.

"I pulled over and called 911, but the line was busy," Denzin said. "Then I waved two men down who were passing by in a truck. Suddenly, the mother tried to reenter the house. I grabbed her, saying, 'No! No!' The heat was so intense I could feel it from across the street."

Fire district spokesman Tony Landin said the first call about the fire came at 8:05 a.m. from a neighbor, adding that cell phone users were the only ones who received the busy signal. "Within five minutes," he said, "the first engine company arrived to find flames showing from the front door and two bedrooms on the north side of the house."

It took 20 firefighters and four engine companies about 30 minutes to get the fire under control. The cause, Linden said late Tuesday, was an "electrical malfunction in the wiring." Damage to the home and its contents was estimated to be $140,000.

Linden said the girl and boy were in one of the bedrooms. Their mother, he said, was taken to a sheriff's station to get her away from the scene and allow her to speak with a chaplain.

Holding up the melted remains of one of the injured men's helmets, he said: "Our firefighters were injured attempting to rescue the children and control the fire. One sustained first- and second-degree burns on his forehead and cheek. The other suffered a one-inch laceration near his right eye."

Both were treated at the scene, then taken to Chino Valley Medical Center for further treatment before being released.

None of the other people who share the residence was home when the fire was reported. The children's father was out of town. Their grandfather, who owns the house, was reportedly in Mexico. Their grandmother was at a doctor's appointment, and their uncle, Elias Rodriguez, 18, said he was in class at nearby Ruben S. Ayala High School when "I was asked to report to the office."

"They asked if I knew Elvira and I said I was her brother," he recalled, trying not to cry. "They said two of my sister's children had died in a fire."

Among those who tried to console the family was next-door neighbor Irma Jackson.

"It's so sad. The little girl was named Leticia, and she was just starting to walk," Jackson said. "The little boy was named Eduardo, and he used to shout out, 'Hi! What's up?' every time he saw me or my husband.

"It's hard to believe," she said, shaking her head. "Elvira used to walk all three of her kids to the bus stop every morning. But this morning, the two youngest were sleeping and she didn't want to wake them up. She thought it wouldn't take very long to get back home."

Times staff writers Seema Mehta and David Haldane contributed to this report

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