A young neighbor who ran to a burning home to help save a family he grew up with says he wishes he could have done more to save the victims of the fire.
Jose Hernandez, 21, has been next door neighbors with the family since he was a young boy and is good friends with one of the older siblings, who was not home at the time of the fire.
He said when he saw the house on fire, he stood there in shock for 30 seconds; he didn’t know whether to get his shoes or run over there.
"I thought I was dreaming. I couldn't believe it,” said Jose Hernandez, one of the Good Samaritans who ran into the burning home.
A young boy was one of three children who were trapped when flames engulfed a single-story home on J Street just after midnight Monday. The child, identified as 12 years old, was found dead inside the burned out back bedroom, officials said.
His two siblings were rushed to UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest where they were listed in critical condition.
Joey said when they rushed to the building, his friend knocked down a door to get into the home. The action caused the flames to get even more intense, and when Hernandez tried to enter, he couldn’t.
"That room where (one child) sleeps was barely catching on fire and I guess it (breaking doors and windows) just added more oxygen and...It was like a match and gas," he said.
The children were in the care of a babysitter when fire broke out. A neighbor was told by the babysitter that a portable space heater may have been placed too close to a mattress. Fire officials have labeled the fire as accidental but have not confirmed a space heater as the cause.
Hernandez said he yelled for people to get hoses to try and put some of the flames out. In his head, that was the final hope.
"My dad was jumping inside but I told him no, you're going to get burned,” Jose said. “So I pulled him back out. My brother in law tried too, but he also got -- it was too hot. It was already burning."
When they tried to throw the hose in, it broke.
“We couldn’t do much more,” he said. “We basically panicked.”
Jose said he doesn’t feel like a hero.
"I feel like we could have done more, but we just panicked,” he said. “When you see those flames and you hear the kids yelling, it's like, what do I do? It's hard to explain."