- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

A mother and her two children died and her husband was badly injured in a dawn fire yesterday in a townhouse in a neat, tidy neighborhood on the outskirts of Gaithersburg, Md.
Officials did not release the names of the victims, but neighbors identified the dead woman as Alba Herrera, no age given, and her 5-year-old son, Caleb. Neighbors did not know the name of her 2-year-old daughter.
The fire started in the lower level of the Herreras' four-story brick town house in the 7200 block of Millcrest Terrace, where others lived with them.
Montgomery Fire and Rescue personnel transported nine people who lived in the house to three area hospitals. The children were pronounced dead at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. Mrs. Herrera was pronounced dead at Montgomery General Hospital.
Surviving the fire in a dramatic rescue by firefighters, her husband, Israel Herrera, 31, works as a foreman for a home improvement company.
He was taken to Montgomery General Hospital, where he is being treated for burns. Plans to transfer him to the burn unit of Baltimore Shock Trauma have been delayed until Mr. Herrera's condition can become stable.
A witness, Dan Weir, who lives two doors from the Herreras, said he was preparing to go to work at about 6 a.m., when he heard screams from outside. Mr. Weir ran to help, and he asked one of the men who lived in the house and had jumped to safety with his wife if anyone else was inside.
"He told me that two adults and two children were still in the house. The flames were coming out of the basement windows, and there were electrical explosions going on in the house," Mr. Weir said.
He said the fire department arrived before 6:30 a.m., and he watched as the firefighters tried to rescue the family from El Salvador who lived in the basement of the town house with shrubbery on either side of the doorway.
"I watched them bring out one adult and perform CPR, and then they brought out a second adult and took them across the road. I was in shock and kind of lost it when they brought out the little girl," he said.
Mr. Weir asked firefighters if they were able to rescue all four in the family and was told they did. But he said they did not know at that time that three of them had died.
Christopher Portillo, who lives next door to the Herreras, described the couple as "very religious."
"I met them about six months [ago] when we moved to this neighborhood. Mrs. Herrera was a homemaker and did not work outside of the home because her children were so little. Sometimes we would talk in the parking lot. They were good neighbors," Mr. Portillo said.
Hours after the fire was extinguished, fire crews remained at the scene to handle any possible flare-ups. Lt. Oscar Garcia said investigators were scouring the house to determine the cause of the fire and where it started.
He said it originated in either the basement or the subbasement of the house. The extent of the damage has not been determined, Lt. Garcia said.


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