A man known to a family in Wilmington was arrested after police said he intentionally set their home on fire while three children were inside Thursday.
Three children were rescued from the burning apartment around 6:15 p.m. in the 700 block of North Hawaiian Avenue.
"We saw the first body come out - lifeless. As we saw the second body come out - lifeless again," neighbor Latoya Higgins said. "The third - when they put her on the gurney, she was breathing. We were happy about that, but we knew that she was in critical condition already just because of the way she was acting and because of all the smoke."
The fire started just before 6 p.m. in the duplex. Neighbors had rushed out to help the mother and three children - two girls and a teenage boy.
One witness said the children were screaming help. Another neighbor, Darrell, said he rushed to try and save the kids.
"They told me there were kids in the house - I just went into action trying to save the kids. I got on the roof trying to pull the bars off, but we couldn't," he said.
The flames and smoke were too intense. The mother was able to escape, but the children could not get out.
Los Angeles Fire Capt. Erik Scott said firefighters were able to pull two of the children out of the house. A Los Angeles police officer pulled the third child out of the house from a second-story window.
The officer suffered minor smoke inhalation during the rescue.
Two of the children were hospitalized in critical condition, while the other was listed in serious condition.
Authorities said the fire was intentionally set by a man who was living in the apartment but who was not related to the victims.
"He has family that lives there. He went into the residence, he spread an accelerant, lit it on fire and then exited the residence," Capt. William Hayes said.
Friends said the woman and her children were down on their luck and staying with a family in that apartment. The man suspected of setting the fire is related to that family, according to authorities.
The man's motives were not known. The investigation was ongoing.
3 kids hospitalized after man sets Wilmington duplex on fire, police say