Fire tore through an apartment complex in Hemet Friday morning, leaving a a man and two of his children dead, police said.
The fire was reported about 1:15 a.m. near Alessandro Street and Latham Avenue. Three members of a family of seven were killed after the fire started in their residence and spread to nearby units.
The victims were identified as a 41-year-old man and two girls, ages 12 and 4. An 8-year-old boy is in grave condition.
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"Our hearts go out to the family," said Lt. Nate Miller. "It's my understanding that the 41-year-old male went back inside to rescue other family members. He wasn't seen alive after that.
"It's a terrible situation. As a father myself, I think a lot of us would think about going back in."
Relatives identified the family as 41-year-old Juan Moreno, 12-year-old Maria, and 4-year-old Janessa.
Janessa was described as a daddy's girl who was always "glued to his hip." Maria, the oldest, was described as an outgoing girl who would look after her younger siblings.
Relatives said Juan’s wife Christina, her baby and their 11-year-old daughter Jaylynn made it out of the apartment. But 8-year-old Isaac is fighting for his life.
The children’s godmother was overcome with emotion after learning the two girls died in the tragic blaze.
"My heart just hurts for them. They’re good kids," said Keikei Thomas, the children’s godmother.
Neighbor Robert Richmond tried to help family members escape the flames when he heard a woman screaming.
"It was engulfed," said Richmond. "She didn't want to leave. She wanted to stay up there. I brought them down, and there was no way of getting back in there."
About 40 residents were forced from their homes due to the fire damage.
Video from the scene showed thick smoke around the complex as Hemet police officers went door-to-door to alert residents to get out of the building.
The cause was under investigation.
A relative created a GoFundMe account because the father was the sole provider of his family of seven, and it’s going to be very difficult for his wife and surviving children.