A woman and two of her children remained hospitalized Saturday after two neighbors pulled the family out of a fire that raced through their apartment Friday night and took the life of the woman's 3-year-old son.
The fire broke out late Friday night and apparently trapped six people inside the two-bedroom unit: Toni Jones, 36, her three sons and two young girls that Jones was baby-sitting.
As others frantically tried to break down the front door, neighbor Benny Barcelon used his fist to shatter the window of the bedroom in which Jones and her 9-month-old baby were trapped by the flames.
"Toni was screaming by the glass in her room and pounding on the window, trying to get out," said Lorraine Pacheco, 44, a neighbor and friend of Jones.
Barcelon pulled Jones through the broken window, then climbed inside to rescue her baby. Another neighbor, who was unidentified, entered the apartment through a rear window and--wrapped in a wet curtain--pulled three other children from the fire but could not locate Jones' 3-year-old son, Aaron.
"It was a scary experience," said Barcelon, 28, whose hand required 14 stitches. "I couldn't see in there. It was so dark and full of smoke."
Garden Grove Battalion Chief Vince Bonacker said Saturday the fire appeared to be accidental but that an investigation was continuing. Fire officials would not confirm a report from wire services that attributed the blaze to a box spring placed over a heater.
Jones and two of her sons were taken to UCI Medical Center in Orange, where they were being treated Saturday in the burn unit, Bonacker said.
Nine-month-old Isaiah Jones suffered burns, and his 4-year-old brother, Carlos, suffered severe smoke inhalation. Toni Jones suffered burns but was in fair and stable condition, hospital officials said.
Charleen Taverna, 8, and her sister Melinda, 5, whom Jones was baby-sitting, were taken to Humana Hospital-West Anaheim. The two were treated and then transferred to UCI Medical Center, where they were released Saturday evening, Bonacker said.
Authorities said the blaze began about 11 p.m. at the apartment in the at 9571 Maureen Drive, where Jones and her children had lived for about three months.
Kyle Gordon, 29, a neighbor, said he and his wife had just walked outside to go do their laundry when he caught sight of flames in Jones' apartment.
"We saw a flicker of light behind the drapes, and it kept getting bigger and bigger," he said. "I've helped fight a few forest fires, so as soon as I saw that shade of orange, I called 911."
When he received a busy signal twice, Gordon said he called the Fire Department.
He said that by the time he went back outside, Jones' apartment "was already engulfed. (The fire) was already up and over the balcony upstairs."
Pacheco and others braved intense heat and tried to break open the front door, but it would not give way. Pacheco was joined by about a half-dozen neighbors who also tried to enter the burning apartment.
Barcelon, a forklift operator who lives in the unit above Jones', was returning from a nearby liquor store when he saw the fire. After hurriedly checking to see that his girlfriend and their four children were safe, Barcelon returned to the fire and broke through the window.
"As soon as I punched in the window, I saw (Toni) and pulled (her) out of there," Barcelon said.
Some neighbors had to forcibly restrain Jones from re-entering the apartment while others frantically used water from the swimming pool to try to extinguish the flames.
Firefighters, who put out the blaze shortly after 11:30 p.m., found 3-year-old Aaron's badly burned body in the living room. He was dead at the scene.
On Saturday, neighbors gathered near the blackened, boarded-up apartment to remember the toddler with the big brown eyes and voracious appetite.
"He was always hungry," said 30-year-old Cynthia Barcelon, Benny Barcelon's girlfriend. "I used to give him peanut butter."
William Sands, 30, who moved into the complex with his wife and two children a week ago, remembered chatting with the youngster as he ferried boxes into his new home.
"He said, 'Hey, mister, you movin' in? Can I have a toy?' " Sands recalled as he sat on the stairs outside the apartment. "That shows you how friendly he was. He was a cute little kid."
"We'd always see him out here playing," added Sands' wife, Michelle, 23. Then, turning to their 4-year-old son as he released a red helium balloon into the air, she said softly, "Wave goodby to the balloon, Bobby. It's going up to Aaron, who's with God."