Fire investigators say no smoke alarms were found in the home destroyed in the raging blaze that killed a pregnant preschool teacher in San Diego’s Bonita area.
On Dec. 28, a fire ripped through a family’s home on Alameda Way. A Southern California preschool teacher, Vanessa De La Cruz, 22, perished in the blaze.
She was newly pregnant and had just shared the news with her family at the time of her tragic death.
Four of her family members were injured in the house fire, but survived, including De La Cruz’s brother, Arnold Jr., a U.S. Army medic who told NBC 7 he could hear his sister’s pleas for help from inside the home as it burned.
Now, disturbing new details have emerged about the deadly house fire.
According to officials, after the smoke cleared at the De La Cruz family home, investigators discovered there were no smoke alarms installed inside the house.
Instead of waking up to sounds of a smoke alarm detecting the blaze, Arnold Jr. said he “woke up to the popping noise” of the fire ripping through the residence. He then heard his father’s panicked voice as his family tried to flee the flames.
Arnold Jr. helped rescue his 9-year-old brother and then tried desperately to save his sister. In those moments, Arnold Jr. said he did not hear any smoke alarms.
Following the deadly fire, both city and county investigators combed through the charred home.
“Our Investigator searched, but did not find smoke detectors,” Bonita Fire Chief Tim Isbell said.
“We did not locate any smoke detectors during our investigation but just because we didn't find a smoke detector doesn't mean it wasn't there,” Sheriff's Bomb and Arson Squad Sgt. Greg Hampton said.
The De La Cruz family had moved into the Bonita home just last month. The property is owned by former three-term assemblywoman and former Chula Vista mayor, Shirley Horton.
Horton declined to speak on camera, but spoke with NBC 7 in a phone interview, saying there are smoke alarms on the property.
“I am certain smoke detectors were there and were working," Horton said.
She called the fire horrible and very tragic.
The De La Cruz family was notified of the investigators’ findings but has not yet commented on the case.
The California Department of Consumer Affairs says landlords are required to provide working smoke detectors in all units. It is the tenant’s responsibility to notify the landlord when such security devices don't operate properly.
The County Bomb and Arson Squad sergeant said the fire itself was not criminal, but the investigation is ongoing.