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Fatal Galt fire that killed mother, daughter ruled 'accidental'

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Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2008 10:00 pm

The fire that killed a young mother and her 2-year-old daughter appears to have been an accident, the Cosumnes Fire Department announced Thursday.

At around 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 16, a blaze swept through a warehouse outside Galt, killing Maria Hernandez, 19, and her daughter Jacqueline Gonzalez.

The warehouse, located in the 1000 block of South Lincoln Way, had been used to prepare and store plastic flowers that were sold at the Galt Market.

Investigators with the Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department released a statement that said the fire was "accidental in nature."

District Spokesman Steven Capps said investigators determined the fire was not an act of arson, but were unable to determine the exact cause. He said all accidental causes have been ruled out, except for electrical.

"We don't know what caused the fire, but we were able to rule out that it was not intentionally set," he said.

It's not uncommon for fire departments to never determine the cause of a fire, Capps said. The fact that the fire burned so hot and that the warehouse was filled with plastic material complicated the investigation.

The warehouse was not built to code to be a habitable space, but workers would sleep there Monday through Wednesday nights to prepare the plastic flowers for sale.

Capps said investigators with the Cosumnes Fire Department reported that there were no smoke detectors in the metal-walled warehouse.

"This fire was a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims," Cosumnes Fire Chief Steve Foster said in the statement. "If there had been working smoke detectors in this building, their young lives most likely would have been spared."

A spokeswoman for the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said arson investigators will pass their findings onto the Sacramento County District Attorney's office, which will determine if a criminal investigation is warranted.

Jimenez and her daughter had been sleeping in the warehouse the night of the fire along with five other people who escaped. Two of those who managed to flee the building were men, who received burns to their arms and faces.

Capps said Cosumnes Fire Department investigators - aided by the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other agencies - also conducted numerous interviews in connection with the case. This included interviews with witnesses to the fire, family members of the deceased woman and others.

Cosumnes Fire Department units were dispatched to the fire at 12:35 a.m. and arrived in less than four minutes. One of two battalion chiefs on duty for Cosumnes Fire that night was stationed in Galt, and was among the first to respond. Capps said the battalion chief said the warehouse was completely engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.

Cosumnes Fire was aided at the scene by units and personnel from a number of fire departments, including Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, the City of Sacramento Fire Department, the Woodbridge Fire District, the Herald Fire Department and the Walnut Grove Fire Department.

Contact City Editor Andrew Adams at andrewa@lodinews.com.

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