Firefighters in Phoenix, Arizona, responded to a fire in a house where three children had been recently removed by child-welfare workers — and found human skeletal remains in the attic, authorities said Wednesday.
When firefighters first arrived at the scene Tuesday, they were greeted at the door by a man who told them the flames were just in the fireplace and that they didn’t need to come inside, officials said.
“Firefighters knew that was obviously not the case,” Phoenix fire Capt. Rob McDade told NBC News. “We ignored his pleas and made entry.”
Firefighters got the call about the fire at 2:07 p.m. If they had arrived at the scene five minutes later, the entire house would have been engulfed and not been saved, according to McDade.
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After putting out flames, a department arson dog sniffed gasoline on the walls and floor, officials said. Firefighters checked for hot spots in the attic and found skeletal remains, McDade said.
The 911 call about the fire came about an hour after after social workers from the Arizona Department of Child Safety removed two children, 9 and 4 years old, from the home, police said.
The prior week, on Jan. 20, Phoenix police had visited the house to find an 11-year-old girl home alone, and she was removed by Department of Child Safety social workers who suspected child abuse, authorities said.
It’s not clear how many children lived in the house.
The father, 56-year-old Rafael Loera, was booked into jail on charges of concealing human body parts, endangerment, child abuse and arson, police said. The mom, 50-year-old Maribel Loera, was booked on suspicion of child abuse.
The parents, taken to the Maricopa County 4th Avenue Jail, had not been assigned or hired attorneys by early Wednesday afternoon, according to prosecutors.
“As you can imagine, this is a very complex investigation. What’s important to know is that the three children are safe,” Phoenix police Sgt. Maggie Cox told reporters at the scene on Wednesday.
“You can only imagine the amount, the layers of investigation that are going on. There are so many interviews that are being done, evidence that’s being processed,” Cox said.