A fire investigation report was released Thursday into the cause of a quick-moving house fire that claimed the life of a young boy and his mother in a San Francisco public housing unit in April.
The fire that killed 32-year-old Esther Ioane and 3-year-old Santana Williams at a home in San Francisco’s Sunnydale housing projects on April 16 was deemed accidental in nature, according to the San Francisco Fire Department’s investigation report.
Fire officials received a report of the fire at 76 Brookdale Ave. at 9:54 a.m. and controlled at 10:20 a.m., according to fire officials. According to the autopsy released by San Francisco medical examiner’s office, the boy and his mother were found in the bathtub in an upstairs bathroom, with Ioane covering her son with her body.
The tub was three-quarters of the way filled with water. Ioane was pronounced dead at the scene from injuries suffered in the blaze, while Santana was rushed to San Francisco General Hospital in critical condition and succumbed to his injuries there.
A dog was also found dead in an upstairs bedroom, according to fire investigators. Fire investigators said a third victim escaped the blaze by jumping from a second floor window.
The victim jumped out the window after awaking to screams of “fire” and determining that there was too much smoke to pass through the stairway to the first floor.
According to the fire report, the blaze started in the west wall of the home’s living room, but fire investigators could not determine the exact cause of the fire. An electrical outlet showed signs of a possible electrical event, and could not be ruled out, the report said.
A heater in the home was also a possible suspect, the report said. The space heater was used like an end table with large amounts of debris piled on it and around it.
The heater was sometimes used to dry clothing and was often left on high, according to witnesses. One witness told investigators that two nearby leather couches had started smoking two weeks before the fatal fire.
Witnesses also told investigators that Ioane would “party all day” and often fell asleep on the couch “with something cooking in or on the stove or with a cigarette or weed” in her hand.
The fire investigation report notes that “two glass pipes typically used for smoking recreational drugs were located” in the living room.
Investigators said they could not rule out carelessly discarded smoking materials as a caused of the fire. A fourth witness was interviewed by investigators and stated that Ioane “was a dope addict and would stay up for days.”
The autopsy revealed that Ioane had methampethamine and cannabinoids present in her system at the time of her death. Investigators also found that the home’s smoke detectors were missing, but the mounting brackets were in place.
They were later told by a private fire investigator that three smoke detectors were found without batteries in the drawer of a hutch in the kitchen and a fourth smoke detector was located on a vanity in the living room.
The San Francisco Housing Authority provided documents to investigators indicating that during the weeks prior to the blaze, a request had been made to ensure the smoke detectors were working properly at that home.