Five women who died in a limousine fire on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge tried to escape through the vehicle’s front partition, the San Mateo County coroner said.

But the fire -- which reportedly started at the rear of the car -- moved too fast, authorities said.

"It was almost impossible for them to get out as the fire was moving so fast," San Mateo County Medical Examiner Robert Foucrault said.

PHOTOS: Fatal limo fire

Foucrault said the women's bodies were found near the partition at the front of the limousine, where they tried to climb through the small window area and escape.

The Foster City Fire Department's arson division is investigating the case, and authorities said it could take days to determine what started the blaze.

Foucrault said Orville Brown, a driver with LimoStop Inc., picked up nine women in Oakland on Saturday evening and was hired to drop them off about 40 miles away at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City for a bachelorette party.

The women were all riding in the passenger section of the limo when they noticed smoke coming from the back of the 1999 Lincoln Town Car, Foucrault said. They alerted the driver, who pulled over on the side of the San Mateo-Hayward bridge.

When the driver got out of the limo to inspect the vehicle, he noticed the rear was engulfed in flames, Foucrault said. Three of the women managed to escape through the rear passenger door. Another squeezed through the partition that separated the driver from the passengers, he said.

Two of the surviving passengers -- Jasmin De Guia, 34, of San Jose and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro were taken to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. They were being treated for smoke inhalation and burns and were listed in critical condition.

[For the Record, 8:18 a.m. PDT, May 6: A previous version of this post misspelled Jasmin De Guia's name.]

Two other passengers -- Nelia Arellano, 36, of Oakland and Mary Guardiano, 42, of Alameda -- were taken to Stanford Medical Center. They were treated for moderate burns and smoke inhalation, authorities said. Their conditions are unknown.

Brown, 46, of San Jose was not injured in the incident. Foucrault said he was "pretty distraught." 

Friends told the San Jose Mercury News that some of the women met through nursing jobs.

"I'm shocked. It's devastating, a freak accident," Angela Huang told the paper.

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