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Border & Immigration

Mexican Authorities Investigate Deadly Nursing Home Fire

Forensics work among the rubble of a nursing home after it caught fire in Mexicali, Mexico, June 23, 2015.
Associated Press / Cristian Torres
Forensics work among the rubble of a nursing home after it caught fire in Mexicali, Mexico, June 23, 2015.

The Baja California state prosecutor is investigating a fire that killed 17 people at a Mexicali nursing home this week. Mexicali's mayor said the Tuesday morning fire may have been intentionally set.

Mayor Jaime Rafael Diaz Ochoa said the area where the fire started is suspicious because there appeared to be no natural source, like electrical wires or fuel, for the origin of the fire.

"In the area where it started there are ... boxes, which by themselves could not have started the fire," Diaz Ochoa told reporters at a news conference Wednesday. He said there were reports of a dispute between administrators of the facility.

The home was called Hermosa Atardecer, which means "Beautiful Sunset." It mainly served seniors who had been homeless or abandoned. It was last operated by a nonprofit agency called Sociedad Cultural Impulsora de Bienestar Social A.C., or Cultural Society for the Promotion of Social Welfare.

The home's former director, Humberto Cota, said the facility was built with wooden materials that “were very sensitive to fire." He said management didn't have a choice due to scarce economic resources. However, Mexicali officials say there were a dozen fire extinguishers and eight fire alarms in the facility.

Twenty-seven people survived the fire. Most of them were transferred to a city government shelter called Ejido Janitzio for temporary relief. A few have since been reunited with their families. Four were hospitalized, but only one 60-year-old remains in serious condition at the Mexicali General Hospital, according to the state government.

The city government is collecting donations of adult diapers, latex gloves, non-perishable food and more at its Integral Family Development office. Nonprofit volunteers are also collecting items for the survivors.

“We are looking for soap, shampoo, whatever we can get them right now,” said Jesus Cota, the son of Hermosa Atardecer's former director and a volunteer at another nonprofit senior nursing home. That home may take in some of the seniors if they have to be transferred from the temporary government shelter.

Forensics investigators from the federal attorney general's office are also assisting in the investigation.