SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — A 59-year-old man was charged Friday with setting a 5-alarm blaze at a Tustin apartment building that killed a dog and displaced dozens of residents.
Patrick Andrew Ceniceros was charged Friday with a count of aggravated arson with damage exceeding $8.3 million, arson of inhabited property, arson of a 2001 Ford Mustang and animal abuse by a caretaker for the death of the dog, according to court records — all felony counts.
The fast-moving fire was reported at about 3 a.m. Wednesday at Chatham Village apartments at 15751 Williams St., and wasn’t fully extinguished until 8 a.m. according to the Orange County Fire Authority.
Ceniceros was arrested by Tustin police Wednesday on suspicion of arson. Police said he lived at the complex.
Neighbors had reported hearing loud bangs and yelling before the fire started and were suspicious that the blaze was set intentionally.
There was anger from the now-displaced residents, two of whom suffered smoke inhalation, after learning about the arson investigation.
“They cannot live comfortably right now,” said one man struggling to find out how to house his parents after the fire. “They lost their IDs, they lost social security, they lost their passport. They don’t have anything.”
Ceniceros voluntarily walked into the Tustin Police Department and agreed to be questioned in connection to the fire, according to police.
According to court records, Ceniceros also faces a sentencing enhancement for arson with an accelerant and a prior conviction for attempted murder in October 2009 out of San Bernardino County.
“There was a huge fire,” said Samara Carranza, who huddled in blankets with her sister and dog outside the building. “Everything was burning, the roof was going out. It was just so sad.”
Within 25 minutes of starting the firefight, the roof collapsed, and all firefighters were pulled out of the building, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito said. Video shows a portion of the smoldering roof falling off the building and falling onto the sidewalk, forcing firefighters back.
About 125 firefighters battled the blaze from a defensive position outside the two-story, 100-unit complex. Thirty-eight units were destroyed by the blaze.
Many of the residents were asleep when the fire broke out and said they were scrambling to get to safety. Some residents who escaped say they were awakened by the sound of people screaming and pounding on doors.
“Everyone was panicking,” resident Eymy Murillo said. “The people just didn’t know where to go, what to do. It was very scary.”
Residents displaced by the fire were asked to check in with the Red Cross at 1952 E. McFadden Ave. in Santa Ana. About 100 people have been displaced by the fire, and a bus was being sent to pick them up and take them to the Tustin-area senior center.
The two residents who suffered from smoke inhalation were taken to a hospital.
He was being held on $1 million bail.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)