A young Stockton mother and her 2-year-old daughter perished early Tuesday morning in a warehouse blaze just outside Galt, leaving family and friends stricken with grief and raising questions about why people were sleeping inside the storage structure.
Family members identified the victims as 19-year-old Maria Hernandez Jimenez and her daughter, Jacquelyn. They said the two were trapped inside as flames engulfed the metal-walled structure and many artificial flowers stored inside.
The blaze took place in the 1000 block of South Lincoln Way just west of a tan single-story home.
"I think (it was) too much smoke and she fell down with the baby," said Irma Gonzalez, the child's paternal grandmother, as more than a dozen friends and family members huddled together on the dirt lot just east of the charred building.
The fire was first reported at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The smell of still-smoldering plastic and a slight haze filled the air at the site. Fire trucks, media vans and the cars of family and friends crowded the rural corridor for much of the morning.
Investigators had not determined the cause of the blaze late Tuesday afternoon. They noted there was no smoke detector inside the warehouse.
Fire crews arrived on scene within five minutes of the first call, said Peter Sakaris, battalion chief for Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department.
They were told two people were trapped inside. By then, flames had consumed the building and rescuers could not enter, Sakaris said.
Officials said there may have been a delay in reporting the fire.
Five people escaped the blaze, two with burns to their arms and faces. Those two were sent to UC Davis Medical Center. A third person suffered smoke inhalation but refused medical treatment, according to a fire spokesman.
All of the escapees were workers employed by the deceased 19-year-old's father, Jesse Hernandez, the father said at the scene.
Visibly distraught, Hernandez said he ran his business from the warehouse, where workers would typically sleep inside Monday through Wednesday nights to prepare the flowers for sale at the Galt Market.
"People would sleep for three days here," he said.
Firefighters could see a makeshift sleeping area in the building, Sakaris said.
And while CCSD spokesman Bill Capps described the warehouse as "not suitable for residential use," he said it was too early to decide whether the department will pursue any criminal charges.
"I'm not saying we're not going to look into that," Capps added.
The warehouse belongs to the homeowners at the site. A woman who said she lives at the home, just south of the St. Christopher Parish, declined to speak about the fire. She would not say whether she knew people had been sleeping inside the warehouse.
John Hallimore, a principal building inspector with Sacramento County, said the county relies on residents to call if they notice people living in such a structure.
It doesn't inspect buildings unless those complaints are made, he said.
He added that residents can call a county complaint line at (916) 875-5656 to report everything from illegal dwellings to parking and animal problems.
From what he'd learned of the building, Hallimore said it did not meet any residential living standards.
"Obviously, they shouldn't have been living there," he said.
Family mourns loss of loved onesFamily members mourned the loss of 19-year-old Maria Hernandez Jimenez on Tuesday, describing her as a loving, protective mother.
The young Stockton woman and her 2-year-old daughter, Jacquelyn, were killed in a warehouse fire early Tuesday morning near Galt.
"She's a good person and happy," said Irma Gonzalez, Jacquelyn's grandmother. "She helped me too much."
Maria loved movies and gangster rap music, her older sister, Veronica Hernandez said.
The sisters moved to California from Mexico City more than a decade ago.
They each became mothers. They each helped their father, Jesse Hernandez, with his flower arrangement business, run out of the warehouse.
The family was close-knit, doing almost everything together, said Lisa Arroyo, a San Joaquin County social worker at the scene Tuesday morning. Arroyo noted she was there to provide assistance for Veronica Hernandez, who lives in Stockton.
The sisters' own mother died when the Hernandez girls were young, Arroyo said.
More than a dozen family members and friends gathered at the site of the fire Tuesday, many embracing and sobbing, others speaking to family on cell phones. Some, like sister Veronica, sat quietly on her father's trailer, staring off in the distance.
"It hurts," she said.
- News-Sentinel staff
Fundraiser planned for WednesdayFamily members of the fire victims plan to hold a car wash fundraiser in Stockton on Wednesday.
The car wash will be held at 7424 Lorraine Avenue at Hammer Lane from 8 a.m. to about 7 p.m.
The family said it does not have money to cover funeral expenses.
- News-Sentinel staff