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Fatal Santa Ana fire: Neighbor tried to help, but 'it was too late'

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A neighbor of a Santa Ana group assisted living home where a fire killed two people Wednesday said he tried to retrieve a water hose to help douse the flames, but by the time he returned "it was too late."

Hugo Montes, who lives two houses down from the group home in the 2100 block of North Hathaway Street, told The Times he smelled smoke when he walked outside at 5:30 a.m. and saw flames through the windows of his neighbor’s home. He said there was a mattress on fire.

“I saw the caretaker trying to put out the fire,” Montes said. “So I pulled [the mattress] out hoping that would help, but the walls were on fire already.”

Montes said he looked for a water hose outside of the home but couldn’t find it, so he ran to his own house to grab one.

“When I came back it was too late,” Montes said. “I wish I would have gone inside the house to get the people out instead of going after the hose.”

Montes said the caretaker was able to pull two people out from the burning home. 

He said the fire appeared to have started in the room next to the garage.

The two people who died in a fire Wednesday at a Santa Ana group home for people with special needs were women, ages 42 and 52, officials said.

Three other people inside the home -- aged 30 to 60 -- suffered smoke inhalation. A 71-year-old caretaker was taken to the hospital with burns, firefighters said. Initial reports had put the number of those injured at five.

After pulling two people out of the home, firefighters found the other victims, including the fatalities -- one of whom was found on the floor, the other still in bed, Concialdi said.

The home is listed as Mary's Home, and is licensed to care for six people.

Firefighters were still investigating whether the four-bedroom home had properly installed smoke detectors or alarms. 

At one point, 50 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, which was reported at 5:44 a.m. The fire was knocked down at 6:14 a.m., according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

A total of six people were in the home at the time, Capt. Steve Concialdi said.

"When our firefighters arrived there was a great deal of fire coming out of the garage, as well as the home," he said. "Our firefighters did an outstanding job of getting inside and through the fire."

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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