January fire that killed Haltom City woman, 3 grandchildren traced to Christmas tree

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Fire investigators traced the origin of a January house fire that killed a Haltom City grandmother and her three grandchildren to the family's Christmas's tree, but were unable to determine what ignited it, authorities said.

Faulty electrical wiring and foul play were ruled out, said Linda Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County medical examiner. But investigators may never know what started one of the city's worst fires in recent memory.

Maritza Garces, 52, and her grandchildren, Gene Perrera, 5; Jayleen Rayos, 3; and Jaime Moran Jr., 2 months, died in the fire.

"The exact cause may never be known due to the fact that no witnesses survived the fire," said Haltom City Fire Lt. Damian Vogle, assistant fire marshal. "We were able to rule out a number of factors but cannot verify any human actions that may have started or spread the fire."

The fire was reported about 5 p.m. Jan. 10 in a two-story house in the 4900 block of Colonial Park Drive. Neighbors who saw the flames yelled into the house for the residents to get out. Smoke detectors were blaring when firefighters entered the home, fire officials said.

Garces was found on the first floor. Her cause of death was thermal injuries and smoke inhalation, according to the medical examiner.

The grandchildren were found upstairs and also died of injuries caused by the fire.

After the fire, neighbors and relatives left a memorial of stuffed animals, flowers and candles outside the house.

Fire officials initially said they weren't certain why the victims couldn't escape the fire. However, Vogle said Tuesday that investigators believe that the "rapid heat and smoke" created by the burning tree may have blocked their escape down the stairs.

Christmas tree fires are particularly dangerous because they spread quickly and create heavy smoke, according to the National Fire Protection Association. U.S. fire departments respond to an estimated annual average of 230 house fires that began on Christmas trees.

Alex Branch, 817-390-7689

Twitter: @albranch1

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4900 block of Colonial Park Drive, Haltom City, TX
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