Explosions Heard Before Santee Apartment Fire

Arson investigators are searching for the cause of a mysterious apartment fire in Santee that burned two units' worth of people out of their homes Friday and injured two involved.

Forty-five-year-old Charlie Ayers said he heard explosions starting the fire at 1:40 p.m. on Mission Gorge Road.

“I was asleep and I heard two pops. It sounded like backfire at first,” Ayers said.

A neighbor told NBC 7 it was in the back bedroom where the several blasts originated. Ayers said he was in a back bedroom and could not explain the explosions.

The noise of the blasts reverberated through most of the Town Center Apartment complex, yet Ayers said it did not wake his roommate on the living room sofa.

“I went and woke up my roommate and jumped out the window because there was too much flames to go to the door,” Ayers said.

Video captured on a neighbor's cellphone shows brilliant orange flames moving fast through Ayers’ apartment. The smoke and heat were so intense, the unit above was also destroyed.

In that second-story apartment, a 5-year-old girl was treated for second- and third-degree burns. She and her grandmother escaped with help from neighbors.

A Santee firefighter also suffered burns to his hand. The injuries were not considered serious.

Life hasn’t been easy for Ayers lately. Neighbors and friends say his father just died, and he was asked to vacate the apartment in which he lived for more than a decade before fire destroyed it.

Some complex residents find the afternoon fire suspicious. They say often strangers visited at all hours of the day and night.

“I just got a feeling from the people going in and out anything could have gone down,” neighbor Lawrence Smith said.

San Diego County Sheriff's arson investigators combed through the charred remains. They interviewed Ayers, his roommate and eyewitnesses with no firm conclusions to the cause of this blaze.

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