Apartment Fire Suspect Still Running

July 3, 2008 7:08:19 PM PDT
Police are still looking for the man accused of setting an apartment fire that took homes away from as many as 80 people. Deputies say Henry Nieto started the fire when he was escaping arrest.The families who came back to this apartment complex Thursday found their lives in ashes and when they walked inside, they could hardly recognize their former homes.

"What do you see when you go in there?" asked Action News reporter Corin Hoggard. "Nothing," said fire victim David Nieto. "Everything's just gone."

The marks of destruction are all around: burned bedsprings on the ground; mattresses, chairs, and stuffed animals tossed into the courtyard; and a grave dug for a family cat. Investigators say the cat died inside the same apartment where the suspect came from. Henry Nieto's mother lives there and she lost everything.

"What I see is a disaster because there's nothing for my mom to save or anything," said her daughter Trina Mejia. "She had her oxygen. She had her medications and she doesn't have anything anymore."

Family members say Nieto didn't start the fire, but sheriff's deputies say he's a wanted felon and when they chased him, he threw some burning evidence onto mattresses. The fire spread from the mattresses to an apartment and then through a common attic to all but three apartments in the complex. Families didn't have time to rescue anything before they ran away from the flames.

Many of them stayed at a Selma hotel, which is undergoing renovations. The Red Cross got it to open for the families affected by the fire and gave the victims some money for food and new clothes. "I really thank God for them helping us at least stay for a couple nights here, for renting us a room and giving us money to buy food and stuff," said fire victim Maria Campos.

But the local Red Cross could soon be stuck swaying in the wind, just like these families, because it's running out of money. Its board members say they're hoping people who decide not to buy fireworks for July 4th will donate the money they would have spent to the Red Cross instead.


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