UPDATE #5 – Many questions remain after death of child in early morning Little Lake community fire
HEMET – Firefighters rescued a child on Friday morning from a burning home, however the victim later succumbed to their injuries. Early reports indicated the child was trapped inside a burning residence in the Little Lake area. Little Lake is an unincorporated community Southeast of the city of Hemet. The residential blaze occurred on Jan. 22, in the 26400 block of Cynthia Street, according to a Fire Department news release.
Emergency first responders from Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department and Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and American Medical Response rushed to reports of the fire, which was reported at 9:23 a.m. Upon arrival, fire personnel learned of the trapped child.
In a press release from Cal Fire, Jody Hagemann wrote, “The first arriving engine company reported light smoke visible from the home with reports of a child trapped. Firefighters rescued the child.”
After being pulled from inside the burning home, firefighters and paramedics treated the child on scene before the victim was transported via ambulance to a nearby hospital.
According to Hagemann, 23 firefighters from five engine companies and two truck companies responded to the fire. Hagemann wrote that fire personnel extinguished the fire at 9:41 a.m. In the press release Hagemann also wrote that a dog perished in the blaze.
After the fire, Joseph Soto, a 20-year-old who lives at the residence, talked about the hours leading to the fatal incident.
Soto stated he was at the residence with another adult, as well as his three children and the victim, who was later identified by coroner’s officials as Nico Torres, a 2-year-old boy. Soto and other family members have stated the victim’s name was correctly spelled Niko.
Soto, who identified himself as Torres’ uncle, said he lives at the residence with four other adults and four children, including his three children and Torres. He last checked on the boy at about 8:00 a.m., after most of the other adult residents had left the home to go to their jobs. Soto stated at that time, Torres was sleeping inside his room with two dogs. Soto said he shut the bedroom door, so his three children wouldn’t wake the sleeping toddler.
After checking on Torres, Soto said he laid down on a couch in the living room while watching cartoons with his 2-year-old. Soto’s two other children were at the residence, asleep in their room. Soto said he fell asleep while watching cartoons. “I was maybe asleep for about 30 minutes or so, I don’t know how long,” he said.
He first became aware of a fire when he woke to the smell of smoke throughout the house. “I just woke up (because) I smelled smoke and I didn’t see my kids,” he explained.
Soto stated he ran through the house and found his children in their room. “I picked up my baby and my two other daughters and ran them outside and sat them down. I still had my baby in my hands,” he explained, “so I went to go look for my girlfriend’s best friend and she was still in the garage, where she had been doing laundry.”
According to Soto, he alerted the friend to the fire and together they fled to the front yard. After leaving his children with the other adult in the front yard, Soto said he ran back in the house for Torres. “When I opened the door all this smoke came out. It was completely black and I started to cough. I couldn’t see, so I ran to the back yard and punched the window and I still couldn’t see or get him.”
By that time the first firefighters began to arrive at the home. Soto described seeing firefighters wearing protective gear and breathing equipment enter the home. A few minutes later he saw the firefighters carrying Torres out of the residence.
“I tried my hardest to save Niko and the dog but I couldn’t even breath or see.” Soto said about the tragic incident.
At about 12:30 p.m., Deputy Mike Vasquez, press information officer for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed Torres succumbed to his injuries and had been pronounced dead. Vasquez was not able to provide any further information about Torres, the injuries he sustained, or the circumstances surrounding the fire. Vasquez did confirm the sheriff’s department was conducting an investigation into the fatal fire.
“This incident began as an Assist Other Department call and is an ongoing investigation. Sheriff’s investigators from the Hemet Station are now actively involved. No further information can be released at this time,” Vasquez stated about the tragic incident.
A coroner’s report listed Torres’ time of injuries as 9:23 a.m. The report listed his time and place of death at 10:02 a.m. at Hemet Valley Medical Center.
With no further information available, pending further investigation, many questions remain. Attempts to contact the resident’s where the fire occurred were unsuccessful. One neighbor said they had seen the residents leave shortly after the fire and they had not seen them return to the residence since.
This is a developing story. Check back for more information.
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