An arson suspect was arrested Wednesday night after an early morning fire that killed a dog and displaced dozens of people at an apartment complex in Tustin, authorities said.
The massive blaze burned for hours after breaking out shortly before 3:30 a.m. in the 15700 block of Williams Street, according to Orange County Fire Authority. The agency did not declare a knockdown until just after 8 a.m.
Investigators believe the fire started in a unit on the first floor, quickly spread to the second floor and engulfed the building.
“It’s a center courtyard building, so if you can imagine a square with apartments around it, that fire progressed all the way around the building,” Capt. Tony Bommarito said. “That’s why you see so much damage.”
Later Wednesday, 59-year-old Patrick Andrew Ceniceros went into a Tustin police station asking to speak with officials. When investigators interviewed him, he made some incriminating statements, according to police Lt. Andy Birozy.
Ceniceros — a resident of the complex — would be booked on suspicion of arson, the lieutenant said. Birozy previously said the suspect did not live in the building.
Investigators have not yet determined what ignited the flames. Most residents said they were sleeping and woke up disoriented to authorities knocking at their doors.
“We were sleeping, dead asleep,” Eymy Murillo said. “They broke into the house and just told us to get out as soon as possible. We had no clue — it was a scary experience, honestly.”
About 120 firefighters battled the blaze, which “progressed very quickly,” Bommarito said.
“Our units barely had an opportunity to start a fire attack when we had a roof collapse,” he said.
Initially, firefighters had to go into a defensive mode and were not able to check the building’s units for any occupants.
Eventually, two patients were found suffering from smoke inhalation, officials said. One of those patients was taken to a local hospital and the other was treated at the scene.
The dog killed was found dead in the apartment unit where the blaze broke out, firefighters said.
All of the firefighters were OK following the roof cave-in, according to the captain.
It took several hours for crews to douse the flames enough to return to their search of the building.
As of 1 p.m., authorities said all residents have been accounted for but that one person visiting the apartment complex could still be missing. It was later determined that the missing person was arson suspect Ceniceros, who did live in the building.
About 3 p.m., officials said everyone had gotten out of the complex safely.
The fire did not spread past the apartment building, but it damaged or destroyed all of the 38 to 40 units in the two-story complex.
Red Cross officials said about 60 people checked in with them outside the gutted building. Most escaped only with the clothes on their backs.
Williams IC Update: Official knockdown declared at 8:04am. Crews searching apartments to confirm no victims. Due to the extensive fire damage…salvage, overhaul and fire investigation will last well into the evening.— OCFA PIO (@OCFA_PIO) February 12, 2020