Witnesses Describe Chaos At Scene Of Fatal California Fire

The fire killed three children, all siblings.


SPRING VALLEY, Calif. --

Screams and pleas for help are haunting a Spring Valley neighborhood, after they witnessed a horrific fire that took the lives of three children on Wednesday night.

The fire killed three children, all siblings, injured their teenage cousin and destroyed their grandparents' home, NBC 7/39 reported. The medical examiner's office said Thursday that the children killed in the fire were Austin Buskirk, 2; Andrew Buskirk, 4; and Abbey Buskirk, 6.

Neighbors said they watched in horror as the chaos unfolded before their eyes. The flames broke out just after 10:30 p.m.

Grant Hallmuth told NBC 7/39 he watched as the glass flew out from the windows of the home. Another woman who lived nearby said she saw people running around, and heard a man scream, "Oh my God, please help me."

"I could hear the screaming and yelling," said another witness.

Other witnesses told NBC 7/39 they saw flames as high as 40-feet above the home.

The house where the fire occurred was being rented. The owner, Roger Keily, spoke with NBC 7/39 on Thursday. He said he's owned the house for 40 years.

"Their loss has got to be far worse than my loss is," he said solemnly.

The fire was reported at about 10:30 p.m. not far from Highway 125 in the 9000 block of Avocado Street near Valencia Street in Spring Valley, officials said. When crews from the San Miguel Fire Department arrived, the roof was engulfed in flames.

Cameron Bartlett, 18, told reporters he was at the home with a half-dozen friends watching a movie in the living room when they started a fire in the fireplace. He said that when the fire began to die out, someone poured gas on it to get it going again.

The fire was started when the cousin used gasoline to accelerate a fire in a fireplace, according to officials with the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office. Authorities said the victims had recently moved from Texas and were living with their grandparents and cousin.

Steel bars were installed on the exterior of some of the windows of the home, though it's not yet known if they were on the windows near where the children died.

"Residents turn into prisoners in their homes. They can't get out," said San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Maurice Luque. He said that private homeowners are not required to have quick-release latches on window security bars.

The two grandparents got out of the home safely. The 18-year-old cousin escaped, but he had third-degree burns on his hands and was taken to a hospital for treatment, NBC 7/39 reported.

The grandparents told firefighters that the fire was burning too intensely for firefighters to go inside.

Once crews brought the blaze under control, they entered the home. They found the body of one child in a hallway. Two other bodies were in a back bedroom, officials said.

The fire is under investigation by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department bomb-arson unit.

The American Red Cross is assisting the family, providing them with food, clothing, necessary medications or health items, and mental health services.

Previous Stories:

  • February 7, 2008: Gasoline Blamed For Fire That Killed Children
  • February 7, 2008: Children Killed In Fire ID'd

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