Omaha, Nebraska Fire Kills Mother And Three Children

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Silvia Jurado was roused from her sleep by flames from her neighbor's house shooting toward her bedroom window and screams from a father hoping to save his family.

Jurado said she saw Arturo Hernandez run for a ladder to get to the top floor of his small, two-story house set among the tightly spaced homes in a south Omaha neighborhood.

``But it was really, really too late,'' said Jurado, who heard firefighters telling Hernandez there was nothing more he could do.

Hernandez's wife, Maria Hernandez-Montanez, 35, and three of the couple's five daughters _ Candy Hernandez-Montanez, 6, Angeles Hernandez-Montanez, 3, and Dalila Hernandez-Montanez, 1 _ were killed in the fire early Sunday, Police Sgt. Theresa Negron said.

Hernandez, 37, and another daughter, Damaris Hernandez, 13, were injured in the fire, which may have been caused by candles used to light the home, said Alma Ochoa of Omaha, who is related by marriage to the woman who died. An 11-year-old daughter did not need to be hospitalized.

Fire officials said they had not found any smoke detectors in the home, but their investigation was continuing.

No information on Damaris' condition was being released, a spokeswoman for University of Nebraska Medical Center said Monday. A nursing supervisor at Creighton University Medical Center said information about Hernandez also was not being released.

Cause of the fire was being investigated. Negron said there was nothing to indicate it was intentionally set.

Ochoa said when she asked Hernandez what started the fire, he told her that the family had lit a few candles in the home.

The house had no electricity because equipment that connects power lines to the residence had been damaged, according to a Jeff Hanson, a spokesman for the Omaha Public Power District.

The four who died were trapped inside the house, which was reported as being on fire at about 5:10 a.m. CDT, said Negron. They were pronounced dead at the scene.

Jurado said she quickly gathered her family and rushed them out the back door, her young son shivering with fright. She said she will now need to explain to her 4-year-old daughter what happened to the children next door whom she often played with.

Jurado said her home was too damaged for her family to stay in. They planned to stay at a hotel for a few days.

Kirkland Wise, 58, who lives on the other side of Hernandez's home, said he saw flames shoot 10 feet out from the front of the house.

Kirkland's son-in-law, Marvin Clavo, 26, said he was awakened by the sound of children's cries. He said he saw two girls covered in soot sitting on the front steps of the burning home, one was screaming that there were more people in the home.

``I heard kids crying and I thought I was dreaming,'' Clavo said.

Though Wise's home was untouched by the fire from the house next door, Clavo pointed to the seared bushes between the homes, which are only a few feet apart.

Charred and mangled items dragged out by firefighters _ what looked to be a TV, a computer, a small wire chair and a children's book _ were spread among the ashes that covered the front yard of the burned-out house. Streams of mud led from the back door to a small bicycle and tricycle near the driveway. The blackened outlines of flames shot up from every window and door.

Ochoa said she has started an effort to raise money to help the family send the bodies for burial in the mother's native country of Mexico. She also hopes to raise enough money to help pay the family's medical bills.

She described the house as always a little loud and filled with visitors and friends. And the mother was rarely not in the company of her five daughters, she said.

``I know she was a wonderful mother ... always with her kids,'' she said.