SANFORD - Five people were killed before dawn Saturday in a house fire at a Lawrence Street apartment.
Officers with the Sanford Police Department and members of the Sanford Fire Department were called to the fire at 607 Lawrence St. around 4 a.m. Saturday.
Upon extinguishing the blaze, firefighters found three children and their parents dead inside the residence.
Killed in the fire were Jorge Ramiro Ramirez-Lopez, 37, Angelica Riberato, 31, Luis Fernando Cardenas, 10, Secar Cardenas, 6, and Nelsi Ramirez, 1 month old.
Detective Sgt. Jim Eads of the Sanford Police Department said Saturday afternoon that the investigation into the fire was ongoing, though no foul play appears to have been involved.
“The fire appears to have originated in the living room,” Eads said, adding that a preliminary assessment of the scene suggests that the fatal blaze began as an electrical fire. “There was heavy smoke damage inside the house.”
Eads said firefighters were able to enter the house shortly after arriving at the scene, but the fire began flaring almost immediately afterward.
The apartment was equipped with a smoke detector, but Eads said he was not sure whether it was working at the time of the fire.
Ramirez-Lopez was found in the kitchen while the other four victims were found in a bedroom, according to Eads.
Early Saturday afternoon, more than a dozen relatives and friends of the victims gathered in front of the house.
Felipa Hernandez, grandmother to the three children killed, wept while being comforted by family members.
Arnulfo Vazquez, 10, was a friend of the two older children who died in the fire and part of the large contingent who gathered.
Vazquez said the family had been living in the apartment for about a year, having moved here from Mexico.
According to many of the relatives who were there Saturday, someone living in a basement apartment in the same building smelled smoke and tried to notify the family above, but to no avail.
“He was up getting some medicine when he smelled some smoke,” Vazquez said. “He got out and went to their doors to knock.”
Eads said he did not know who lived in the second apartment.
Nestled in a working-class neigborhood just outside downtown between Horner Boulevard and Hawkins Avenue, the brick apartment house is owned by Ortega-Thornton Rentals and is located near the south end of Lawrence Street, where the street terminates at a set of railroad tracks at the top of a hill.
The sirens and lights from fire engines and police cars broke the pre-dawn calm in the area.
“I heard engines revving and that woke me up around 4:30,” said Walter Spivey, a Jackson Street resident who lives a few houses from the Lawrence Street home. “I got out of bed and saw the street was lined up with police cars.”
Spivey said he did not know the family who lived in the apartment.
“I knew there were some kids there,” Spivey said. “I remember seeing them play in the driveway around Christmastime. It was a nicely lit house.”
Eads said the five victims appear to have died from asphyxiation, though results of toxicology tests are pending.
Ortega-Thornton Rentals did not immediately return a message requesting comment.
We heard the sirens and I walked down to where I saw all of the police, rescue, but didnt know to today we lost 5 so close to our house.
My prayers are with the family members. Its not some thing that happens very often in a small city like Sanford Nc.
It can happen anywhere, we had a structure fire (shorted electrical wiring) last week where several smoke detectors woke up 2 grandkids & they woke Grandpa who called 911.
If they would not have had working smoke detectors we would have recovered 3 bodies instead of having a small room and contents fire.