The two firefighters who perished battling a blaze that tore through a public library in Central California had rushed into the building to make sure that everyone else had gotten out safely, officials said Thursday.
Firefighter Patrick Jones, 25, and Fire Capt. Ray Figueroa, 35, were killed fighting the Porterville library fire, which erupted about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday.
After arriving on the scene, the two were “unable to confirm if all citizens had been able to exit the building” and rushed in to search, Tulare County Fire Capt. Joanne Bear told reporters Thursday. A “mayday” was called after that.
Figueroa was found and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Bear said. Jones was initially reported missing, but his body was later located in the charred structure, Porterville Fire Department officials said Wednesday night.
“We continue to work with the families of the fallen firefighters to ensure that they are informed every step of the way during this tragic time,” Bear said.
Officials suspect that the blaze was the result of arson. Two 13-year-old boys were arrested and booked into the Tulare County Juvenile Detention Facility on suspicion of arson, manslaughter and conspiracy, authorities said.
Figueroa started his career with the city in 2007, and Jones was hired as a full-time firefighter in 2017.
“Patrick was quick to make friends with everyone in the department and known for always having a smile on his face,” the Fire Department wrote in a statement. “Patrick was always quick to help any of his fellow brothers or sisters on- or off-duty. His positive attitude was infectious around the fire station. His dedication to his training was seen in his work ethic, as he spent many evenings practicing and becoming proficient as a firefighter.”
Officials said Figueroa was known for his mantra: “KSA,” which stood for “knowledge, skill, ability.”
“When he came to work, his priorities showed, as he was also known for saying, ‘my men, the mission, then me,’” according to a department statement. “Ray not only served the citizens and community in and around Porterville, he often responded to large wildland fires across California through his career.”
A visibly emotional Porterville Fire Chief Dave LaPere called both men “consummate professionals” and thanked all those who have assisted or stood with his department in recent days.
“The outpouring of support that we have received is indescribable,” he told reporters Thursday. “It’s just been heartfelt and we’ve needed it, absolutely.”
The city library, about 500 feet from the Fire Department, was built in 1953 and did not have a sprinkler system, Bear said.
Times staff writers Colleen Shalby and Jaclyn Cosgrove contributed to this report.