DENVER (AP) — Five people were found dead Wednesday after an early morning fire destroyed a suburban Denver home — a blaze authorities said they suspect was intentionally set. Three people escaped the fire by jumping from the home’s second floor.
Investigators believe the victims were a toddler, an older child and three adults, Denver Fire Department Capt. Greg Pixley said. Their bodies were discovered after firefighters extinguished the fire, which was first reported by a Denver police officer at 2:40 a.m., Pixley said.
The three survivors were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, Denver police spokesman Jay Casillas said.
Pixley spoke outside the charred house in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood, a relatively new development of tightly packed homes near Denver International Airport.
A police officer attempting to rescue people on the first floor was pushed back by the fire’s heat, and it appears that those who died were all on the first floor, he said.
Police are investigating the fire along with firefighters because there are indications that it was arson, said Joe Montoya, division chief of investigations for Denver police. He would not elaborate on the evidence because he said he did not want to compromise the investigation.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was assisting the investigation, ATF spokesman Matthew Deasaro said. The ATF frequently assists agencies in arson investigations.
“This is a devastating time for Denver and this community. Our heart and our prayers go out to this community,” Pixley said.
Abou Djibril, who said he was a relative of the victims, told The Denver Post the people who died were members of a family that had immigrated from Senegal. Another friend, Ousmane Ndiaye, told the newspaper the father was an engineer with Kiewit, a construction and engineering firm. An email sent to Kiewit for comment wasn’t immediately returned.
Amadou Ba, a friend of the father, stood outside the charred home with a group of other men from West Africa “to bring my respect for the people who passed away” and to support the family and the community.
“He was a very good guy. … He liked to help everybody, help the community and do a lot of things for everybody,” Ba said of the father.
Ba said he is working with officials in Senegal and raising money to send the bodies back to the West African country.
“It’s tradition because everybody wants to see their family come back home,” he said.
Neighbor Maria Mendoza said she was awakened by noise and someone screaming, “Get the baby out! Get the baby out!” at 2:40 a.m. She ran to a window and saw flames and plumes of smoke rising from the home just down the street.
“I awoke my husband, and he ran outside to see if he could help but there was nothing he could do. The fire was too big,” Mendoza said.
Firefighters arrived moments later.
“It all happened so fast, less than 10 minutes. These are big houses but they’re all made of wood,” Mendoza said, holding back tears. “May God and the community help this family.”
Mendoza said she didn’t know the family but would wave or say “Hi” whenever she saw the children. She said the neighborhood was built about two years ago.
Investigators erected a white tent outside the nearly destroyed home, its frame blackened in stark contrast to neighboring beige houses with neatly manicured lawns.