- Associated Press - Friday, November 6, 2015

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Fire raged through two Anaheim townhome fourplexes before dawn Friday, forcing residents to grab their children and pets and run for their lives.

Firefighters converged on the two blazing buildings and poured in streams of water but by the time the fire was out the damage appeared complete and more than 40 people had lost their homes.

More than four hours later, as the losses started sinking in, Jessica Diaz sat with her four kids and Chihuahua on a blanket spread on a patch of grass across the street from the still-smoldering Benmore Lane buildings. She wore a bathrobe and socks and was on her cellphone trying to make arrangements. Her kids cuddled the dog, Molly.

Diaz said her neighbor pounded on the door shortly before 6 a.m. to warn her of the fire, and she opened the door and saw smoke and flames in the alley that runs through the townhouses, which all open to the outdoors.

“I ran back upstairs and grabbed the kids by their legs and literally dragged them out. I had to,” she said.

Diaz later ran back inside to get her late grandmother’s diamond ring and her purse. By then, she could barely see from all the smoke.

No residents were injured. One firefighter was taken to a hospital for burns to his shoulder.

The two buildings containing the eight townhomes have been declared a total loss and are uninhabitable because of heavy damage from fire, smoke and water, said police Sgt. Daron Wyatt. The structural loss was put at $500,000.

There was no damage to surrounding apartments.

Arriving firefighters entered the buildings but retreated almost immediately when the roofs started to cave in and the stairwells were compromised, Wyatt said. They fought the fire from the perimeter and got a truck’s ladder over it.

The fire burned so hot that it might not be possible to determine the cause, Wyatt said. Arson was not suspected but has not been ruled out yet, he said.

The American Red Cross was helping the displaced residents, who included many children.

Diaz had planned a surprise party later in the day for her daughter, Alyssa, who turned 9 on Friday. Diaz was on her phone checking reports about the fire and said there would be no party.

“Worst birthday ever,” Alyssa said, as she sat in her pajamas next to her younger siblings, 7-year-old Nacho and 5-year-old Jordyn.

Diaz’s cousin saw the fire on TV news and drove from Pomona to pick up the family. They said they would stay with relatives until they could find a new place to rent, but Diaz was unsure how they would be able to afford it because she is unemployed and her husband does not make much money, she said.

“We lost everything. We have no furniture. All my kids’ stuff is gone. The only clothes we have are the things we have on,” she said.

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