Two young children died and their father was critically injured Thursday morning after a fire broke out at their illegally occupied San Bernardino apartment, which lacked a smoke detector, authorities said.
The children's pregnant mother had gone into labor just hours before the fire and checked herself into the hospital, authorities said. She had not been told of her family's fate.
Firefighters arrived shortly after 3:05 a.m. at the home, in the 200 block of West 14th Street (map), and heard screams coming from inside, said Capt. Rodd Mascis of the San Bernardino City Fire Department.
Entrances to the home were blocked to keep people out, causing problems for firefighters, Fire Department representatives later said.
The first responders rescued a man who was transported to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in critical condition, Mascis said.
"All we can assume is that he was trying to get to his children, which he was not able to (do)," Mascis said. "We knew we had to act quickly; our firefighters did that."
Fire personnel searched the residence and found two children, 6-year-old Candra and 2-year-old Saul, unconscious behind a couch.
"It's a good possibility that they hid behind the couch because of the fire, because they were afraid," Mascis said. "And ultimately it could have led to their injuries and to their death."
The firefighters attempted to revive the children, who were then transported to Arrowhead Regional, where they were pronounced dead upon arrival, the SBCFD said.
Arlene Gonzalez, a friend of the family, said the children's pregnant mother had been admitted to a hospital Wednesday evening after going into labor.
"We don't know if she's had her baby yet, but we will be going to check on that soon," Gonzalez said.
The mother had not been told about her children's death, police said at an afternoon news conference.
The home did not have a smoke detector, and electricity, natural gas and water were hooked up to the second-story unit illegally, according to San Bernardino Police Department representatives who spoke at the news conference.
The family that lived in the unit had repeatedly been cited and ordered to leave, police said. The owner had received more than $100,000 worth of fines, authorities said.
"We've exhausted all means to secure the property, however the property owners or the property occupants continued to re-enter that property," police Lt. Richard Lawhead said
Repeated code violations have been recorded at the three-unit property since 2009, and the occupants were living in the home illegally, police and City Attorney Gary D. Saenz said.
The property had been foreclosed upon and is bank owned, Saenz said. The home could be demolished if its owner is unable to get it up to code.
A representative of the bank that owns the property was at the site Thursday, a Fire Department representative said.
"There were extreme fire hazards there. Exits were blocked, doors were secured, windows were boarded -- that kind of stuff that may have prevented escape from the hazard," Lawhead said.
No one who lives at any of the three units on the property pays rent, police said. Authorities were not certain if any of the other residents were present when the fire broke out in the kitchen area of the victims' unit.
The nephew of the father who was injured in the fire was emotional as he spoke with reporters outside the home, saying the family had paid rent and that the landlord refused to make repairs to the property.
"'Why can't you fix this? Why?' This could have been prevented," said the nephew, who gave his name only as Josh. "A selfish man like him doesn't care."
Police planned to shadow the Fire Department in its investigation and will determine whether requesting criminal charges would be appropriate, Lawhead said.
The cause of the fire was still unknown, according to the Fire Department.
Gonzalez, the family friend, described the deceased children as "very happy kids, fun, loving."
"They would break your heart, they were so nice," Gonzalez said.
She described the injured man as a "very good, loving father."