Sacramento Fire Department investigators are investigating whether burning decorative candles or electrical equipment caused a house fire in Meadowview that killed two children earlier this month.
The fire that swept through the two-story home on Babette Way in the early morning of Dec. 1 resulted in the deaths of Ire Johnson, 11, and her brother, 6-year-old Israel Johnson. According to preliminary findings released Thursday, the fire started in the first-story living room.
It was at least the third time firefighters responded to the home since 2012, according to Fire Department spokesman and firefighter-paramedic Chris Harvey. Some of the same family members lived in the house during the previous incidents, fire officials said.
“Sacramento fire crews have responded to this address on two prior occasions for fires, June 23, 2013, and Sept. 11, 2012, and in all of the three cases candles were a common theme,” Harvey said at a press conference.
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Harvey said the investigation is focusing on electrical equipment for the entertainment center and the burning candles in the front room.
“Due to the high heat of the fire and the intensity with which it burned and the evidence we were left to investigate,” Harvey said, “we were unable to tell which of those we would be able to rule out.”
Fire officials cautioned that the investigation is ongoing but that they wanted to release some portions of their findings Thursday. The tragic incident jarred the community at the time, prompting the the neighborhood’s city councilman, Larry Carr, and Mayor Kevin Johnson to establish a fund to accept donations to assist the family.
Investigators could not determine if the home had a working smoke detector. They acknowledged that two adults living in the home reportedly heard an alarm at the time of the fire, but investigators could not find evidence of a smoke detector in the burned structure.
“A lot of the evidence simply burns up,” said Harvey.
The preliminary investigation has concluded that early ventilation helped the fire move from the living room up the staircase to the upstairs bedroom before firefighters arrived. Family members left the front door open, while an older child escaped out an upstairs bedroom window, Harvey said.
After the 2:30 a.m. fire was extinguished on Dec. 1, fire officials described their efforts to reach the children:
When firefighters arrived at the home, they found the fire furiously burning inside the two-story home. Smoke poured from the windows and the front door.
Outside the home in the cold night air were five of the residents who had escaped the blaze. They told firefighters that children were upstairs.
Firefighters immediately entered through the front door, carrying a hose line. However, they encountered heavy flames, indicating that the blaze had been burning for a significant amount of time.
Firefighters hauled a second hose line into the house in an effort to reach a stairwell to the second floor. Once the crew reached the stairs, it was apparent even in the dense smoke that the fire had eaten away at the stairs, rendering them useless.
Firefighters backed out of the home and additional crews using ladders entered the house through second-story windows. There, they found the children’s bodies within reach of their beds.
The father tried to re-enter the home to save the children but the heat and smoke were severe, Harvey said. A 12-year-old boy was able to save himself by hanging outside an upstairs window sill before dropping to the ground.
Harvey said candle residue was found in all three blazes. However, that does not mean that candles were the cause.