14-year-old dies following suspicious Phoenix apartment fire

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by The Associated Press and Erika Flores, 3TV

azfamily.com

Posted on March 23, 2014 at 8:27 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 25 at 10:05 AM

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PHOENIX (AP) -- A 14-year-old girl is dead and her mother and three siblings are in critical condition following an early morning apartment fire in west Phoenix.

Fire department Capt. Jonathan Jacobs says firefighters at 12:45 a.m. Sunday responded to a report of a blaze in a second floor unit of an apartment building. The apartment building is on McDowell Road between 59th and 55th avenues.

He tells The Associated Press that firefighters battled heavy smoke to quickly put out the fire and found the victims.

"One of the firefighters gets back to a bedroom and unfortunately what he finds when he kicks the door in is five family members," said Officer James Holmes with the Phoenix Police Department. "Thirty-three-year-old mother and her four children, they are all unconscious and of course this absolutely surprises the firefighter and now he has a rescue situation."

Officer Holmes said the 33-year-old mother and a 10-year-old are hospitalized in critical condition, and a 3-year-old and a 3-month old are extremely critical but stable.

Holmes says the fire may have been intentionally set, and a person of interest has been detained.

"The investigation is based on witnesses and what fire found at the scene has indicated that this may  not be an accidental fire," said Officer Holmes." It is suspect and we developed enough information to determine that there was a person out there who may have been responsible for this. For the next few hours after that we sought this person out, we were able to detain him. He's at police headquarters right now being questioned by our detectives."

Holmes went on to say that the incident may be a case of domestic violence, indicating the "person of interest" knew the victims.

Seven families -- nearly 30 people -- who live in the building were displaced.

Maria Mendoza and her kids are among those families. Her apartment is right above the one where the deadly fire started.

"I was lying down in bed then I smelled smoke," she said. "When we walked down to the second floor, we could hear the girls screaming and banging on the walls. ... They were desperately screaming they were trying to get out."

"We went back up there to get everyone out, but there was too much smoke and the firefighters told us to go back," said Ronny Gonzalez, Mendoza's teenage son.

The investigation is ongoing.

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