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Tenants speak out after fire destroys Desert Hot Springs home

Desert Hot Springs residential fire
Dwight Fisher

At least 5 people are displaced and 5 dogs are dead after a fire tore through a Desert Hot Springs home over the weekend.

The blaze was reported at 11:30 p.m Saturday night off Acoma Avenue.

Today tenants of the home spoke with KESQ about their tragic loss. Debbie Ponds lived at the home, and recalls the moment she realized it was on fire.

"I heard my dogs barking. It’s about 11 o’clock. I go to the backyard because they were barking toward the backyard. I see this old gentleman who rents an apartment back there, standing in front of his window with a hose and there’s flames coming out," Ponds said.

Ponds says the main part of the house was untouched at the time. Two apartment structures in the back quickly became engulfed in flames.

“He’s just standing there like it’s nothing. I screamed, ‘Fire!' Ponds said.

Another tenant living in the building adjacent to where the fire broke only had seconds to spare.

"My heart sank. I grabbed my cat and my dog. I had my son grab the other cat. I grabbed my phone and I put them in my car and I dialed 911. By the time I went in there to try and think of what else important to get out, like my pictures [and] medications, it was too late. The smoke just overwhelmed us and the fire started coming in," Loretta Steward said.

Meanwhile, Ponds says the tenant who was living in the back had a bunch of heaters and wires. She says he told her what may have caused the fire.

"He had a heater. I guess it knocked against his bed and caught the blankets on fire," Ponds said.

Today fire victims returned to the gutted home. The remains includes lots of shattered glass and debris.

The single most important loss to Ponds are her beloved dogs.

"I don’t care about any of that. I don’t care about anything material. All I cared about was my animals," Ponds said.

She placed 4 of 6 dogs in rooms on the opposite side of the house when the fire broke out. She took the first 2 outside. By the time she went back to get the others, Ponds says an officer who had arrived on scene, evacuated her and wouldn't let her back in.

"It didn’t burn this side of the house. They died from smoke inhalation. There was no fire. [...] Those are my babies. They're dead," said Ponds.

CalFire is handling the investigation. Officials say when they responded the blaze already burned through parts of the roof.

“Obviously if there’s a house that’s involved on fire, there’s fire through the roof already, it’s obviously not a safe environment for people to go back in and try to save anybody," CalFire Captain Fernando Herrera said.

The official cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The owner did not want to go on camera, but he says he does not have fire insurance for the home.

The American Red Cross has stepped in to provide tenants a temporary hotel room and other resources.

If you would like to help some of the victims of the fire, the following links are attached.

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Shelby Nelson

Shelby Nelson is a News Reporter for KESQ News Channel 3. She joined our team in September 2019 after living in San Francisco for 6 years. Learn more about Shelby here.


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