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Deadly La Jolla House Fire Started With T-Shirt Burning in Fireplace: Medical Examiner

The Medical Examiner's report said a man lit a kerosene-soaked t-shirt on fire and fell asleep, then woke up to the flames spreading through his living room

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The deadly house fire that erupted in a La Jolla home Monday morning and took the lives of a 9-year-old girl and her grandfather started as a kerosene-soaked t-shirt burning in the fireplace, according to the Medical Examiner's report.

The shirt was set on fire by the deceased girl's father who is also the deceased man's son. He told police he fell asleep after setting fire to the shirt and woke up to flames spreading through his living room, according to the report.

The spreading flames woke the man up at around 3:45 a.m. Monday. His two daughters, ages 9 and 11, and his 80-year-old father were asleep upstairs.

NBC 7's Dave Summers heard an eye-witness account from a next door neighbor.

He tried to extinguish the fire, but when the flames grew too intense he ran to the back of the house and yelled for his children to leap from the second story. His 11-year-old daughter jumped and landed safely in his arms, but his 9-year-old, who had autism, never left her bed. The 80-year-old man, who had mobility issues, was also unable to get out safely, the report said.

The girl and her grandfather were identified Wednesday by the ME's office as Angie and Robert Keefe. The ME's office said their deaths were accidental.

According to the report, the father's children and their grandfather didn't live at the home and were only staying the night.

Upon arrival, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department crews made two attempts to enter the blazing home on Caminito La Paz: the first at the front door and the second at the window of the second-story room where the grandfather was sleeping. Firefighters tried, but the flames were too fierce.

A family was inside the home when the fire erupted, and two were unable to make it out alive. NBC 7's Amber Frias has the latest.

A fire captain who was one of the first at the scene said when they put up their ladder to get to the second-story window, a flash consumed the room and blew out the window.

Heavy structural damage was reported, including collapses in two different parts of the home and a partially-fallen roof in one area.

It took firefighters until after 6 a.m. to completely knock down the fire. The bodies of the girl and grandfather were discovered later.

The father was taken to UC San Diego Medical Center for minor burns and his 11-year-old was uninjured but was also transported with her dad. Both have since been released.

Video captured this morning from the 2nd alarm structure fire on Caminito La Paz. Firefighters had to go on defensive due to the structure collapsing inside. Two individuals were transported and two individuals deceased inside the home. Cause of the fire is under investigation.

Posted by San Diego Fire-Rescue Department on Monday, August 10, 2020

Crews were able to contain the blaze to the property and neighboring homes were unaffected by the blaze.

Both SDFD and San Diego police are investigating the fire.

“This investigation is still ongoing and is being handled jointly by both agencies at MAST. Since it is ongoing, we are not releasing any other information at this time,” said Sgt. Rick Pechin of the San Diego Metro Arson Strike Team.

A family was inside the home when the fire erupted, and two were unable to make it out alive. NBC 7's Amber Frias has the latest.

Pat Nissan, a next-door neighbor and long-time friend of the family, recalled seeing the glow of the blaze in the early morning.

“I look out and I go, ‘What is that?’ It looks like fire. I look some more and I go, ‘Wow, that’s fire,’ and blasts started exploding," Nissan said. "I mean, I called the police and they said that fire trucks are on the way. And police started coming in the house saying, ‘Evacuate. Evacuate. Evacuate.’"

SDFD said a total of 101 personnel were assigned to tackle the two-alarm fire, including 11 engines and a helicopter.

Two people are missing following an early morning house fire in La Jolla.
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