A drone image shows the former Danny Boy Family Daycare after it was destroyed by a fire on Thursday afternoon, April 22. Three adults and 14 children were evacuated from the home. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
(This story was updated at 11:45 p.m. with an interview with a family member of the daycare owner.)
IMPERIAL — Fourteen children and two nearby homes were evacuated after a family lost its house and its place of business in a three-alarm blaze west of Imperial that was likely sparked by the illegal burning of yard waste.
No one was injured in the fire, but the approximately 4,000-square-foot home that doubled as Danny Boy Family Daycare in the 600 block of Worthington Road between Nance and Austin roads was destroyed on Thursday afternoon, April 22.
All that remained at the site on Friday afternoon, April 23 was a house in ruins, blackened with soot and ash from the fire, a stark contrast to brightly colored children’s toys left behind.
Three people lived in the home, including the proprietors of the daycare center, Carlos and Ana Maria Arreola, and their 17-year-old son.
“We’re still in shock and heartbroken. We’re glad everyone got out safe, but we’re sad about losing memories. I know materials come and go, but it’s still heartbreaking,” said Monse Dominguez, Ana Maria Arreola’s daughter.
Dominguez was speaking on behalf of her mother. Dominguez, who arrived after the family and the children got out of the burning home, helped calm the children and translate for her mother, who does not speak English.
Monse said her mother, her mother’s husband, and her little brother have lived in the rental home since 2019.
“Right now they are receiving lots of help from different communities, families, parents of the children,” Dominguez said.
Monse’s other brother, Adrian Dominguez, arrived from out of town to assist the family, and they started a GoFundMe page for their parents. It’s one of two pages set up to help the family.
The family was in such a rush to get out of the home that they lost of all their possessions. Monse said her mother even left without shoes on her feet and without her phone. All the little brother had when he left was his phone.
He’s taking the loss particularly hard, Monse said.
“He’s in shock. He’s a bit traumatized; he lost everything,” she added.
“It’s going to be very hard for many of the kids, if not all, to transition into a temporary daycare until Danny Boy Family Daycare and family are back. Many of the kids have been there since they were baby’s (sic) mine being one of them,” Villa wrote on the site.
“Please help them out if you can, anything helps, they have lost everything,” she continued. “All money collected will be given to Ana & Carlos for whatever they may need to get back on their feet. They are wonderful people, excellent caregivers, loving, caring and hands on, they are always going above and beyond for their kids.”
Although the cause of the fire is still under investigation, it is believed that a neighbor to the immediate west of the property was burning yard waste on a stated “no burn” day when wind-borne embers likely ignited the shrubbery and palm trees that surround the home, Imperial County Deputy Fire Chief Salvador Flores told this newspaper on Friday.
The initial wave of fire crews arrived around 2:30 p.m., Flores said.
Monse Dominguez said it is the neighbor who reportedly started the fire who called 911.
The three residents of the house and 14 children (the limit the daycare is allowed, according to the state licensing bureau’s public records) were inside at the time the fire started, but they made it to safety, Flores said.
Monse said it was her mother’s husband, Carlos, who got everyone out. She said he was arriving home from transporting children when he noticed the fire outside the home in one of the palm trees on the property. He rushed inside and got everyone out.
She said by the time they were leaving the house with the children, the palm tree fire had spread to the structure itself. Monse added that pieces of flaming palm tree started dropping around them as they escaped, a piece even burning off some of her little brother’s hair. He has was not hurt.
The dense vegetation in the neighborhood and winds gusting around 15 mph at the time of the blaze led Imperial County fire to call a third-alarm and prompted the evacuation of two homes to the immediate east as a precaution, Flores said.
Efforts to fight the blaze were made challenging due to lack of an immediate water source and the several minutes needed to comb the large home to ensure no other people were inside, Flores said.
The fire apparently took hold of the structure during the precious few minutes initial fire personnel needed to search the home.
Additionally, the location of the house is on the north side of Worthington, which is part of the unincorporated county, and there are no hydrants or immediate water sources.
However, with the help of city and county officials, Flores said hoses were run from the south side of Worthington, over the wall of a subdivision that is in city limits and had access to hydrants.
Imperial County sheriff’s deputies were at the scene clearing the roadway and diverting traffic so the lines would not be obstructed.
In all, some eight engine companies were called to the scene, with fire crews from several Imperial County Fire Department stations and the El Centro, Holtville, Calexico, Brawley, Centinela State Prison, and Naval Air Facility El Centro fire departments.
Flores said it took crews about an hour to really knock down the fire, with total time at the scene about two and half hours.
The Imperial County Air Pollution Control District had posted on its website at 8:49 a.m. Thursday that it was a “no burn” day, meaning that those in living in the county could not burn vegetation for any reason.
Because the fire is under investigation, Flores could not say whether the neighbor burning their yard waste would be cited for negligent burning on a stated no burn day.
If in doubt on conditions to burn vegetation, Flores advised calling the Air Pollution Control District at 442-265-1800 or visit the district’s website.