San Jose arson investigators said Monday they found bottle rockets and other fireworks inside the Willow Glen apartment of a young mother who died in a three-alarm blaze Sunday morning that also forced about 25 other residents of the complex out of their homes.
Santa Clara County medical examiners today continued to work on the woman's body, which was burned beyond recognition. The victim's name is officially being withheld, pending positive identification through dental records. But residents of the complex said the woman was 24-year-old Delilah Montano Dominguez.
Ray Dominguez, the woman's husband -- from whom she was estranged -- was caring for the couple's 18-month-old baby Sunday, and was supposed to meet his wife at church at about the time the fire broke out at about 8:45 a.m., residents said.
Meanwhile, the dead woman's downstairs neighbor recounted hearing some unusual noises in the moments before a stranger knocked on his front door to warn him about the fire -- noises that may suggest Delilah Dominguez was not alone in the apartment.
Bus driver Roy Mouton, 51, lived in a ground floor unit at the Almaden Terrace Apartments at 2118 Canoas Garden Ave. for 19 years until he lost nearly everything except his laptop in the fire.
``I just heard hard running toward the back, then running toward the front, and then something fell hard, harder than anything I've ever heard,'' Mouton said. He thought perhaps someone had fallen but then gotten up, because he heard more running after the fall.
Mouton said he was upset, and was about to get up to go speak with the neighbor when he heard more noise and someone knocking loudly on his door. A man he didn't know and hasn't seen since warned him the apartment above was on fire.
Mouton said there was no yelling or screaming from the apartment above.
San Jose fire Capt. Karen Allyn said firefighters removed a variety of fireworks from the apartment, where the woman lived with three or four other people that neighbors believe were relatives. Investigators don't believe the other occupants, including the 24-year-old fire victim's baby, were home when the fire started, Allyn said.
Allyn said fire officials hadn't determined whether the fireworks played a role in the fire and that investigators were looking into all the possible heat sources in the upstairs corner apartment.
Arson investigators haven't located a smoke alarm in the unsprinklered building, but said some neighbors said they thought they heard one sounding inside the upper apartment, Allyn said.
She said fire investigators and police had interviewed numerous witnesses and were reviewing videotapes and photographs taken by residents of the complex.
Allyn said the woman had just moved in around Memorial Day and hadn't finished unpacking everything. ``There was quite a fire load in there, lots of packing materials, boxes and everything,'' she said. Two apartment units were destroyed and six others damaged.
Allyn had no comment on Mouton's account, which suggested Delilah Dominguez might not have been alone in the apartment when the fire started, adding it was too early in the investigation to determine whether the fire was suspicious.
Cardale Evans, a resident whose apartment was damaged in the blaze, said he had spoken on several occasions to the woman who died. It was small talk, about their kids' development and the like, as they washed and folded clothes in the laundromat. Delilah Dominguez, who apparently was separated from her husband, has an 18-month-old baby who was born prematurely.
``He was trying to reconcile with her,'' the neighbor said, adding that Ray Dominguez had told neighbors he had come over to take the woman and the baby to church, only to find the place on fire. He had been taking care of the couple's baby.
Burnt-out fireworks littered the grounds of the 262-unit wood-frame apartment complex Monday. Mouton said his upstairs neighbors had been shooting fireworks every day since the Fourth of July. On that day, Mouton said, he complained to the management about the fireworks. He said a woman responded and took down some information. But, he said, the fireworks have continued.
Mari Tustin, a representative of the property management company, the John Stewart Co., said Stewart was trying to confirm Mouton's report with the complex's security contractor.
Tustin said she doesn't know whether the security company called the fire department to report the illegal fireworks, but that fire officials are often too busy to respond to every such complaint on Independence Day.
Chris Marr, the complex's superintendent, said the fire was ``horrible.''
``At the same time, I think we've done everything we could to avoid something like this,'' Marr said.