Mother died trying to save 12-year-old daughter during Downey apartment fire

"She took every bit of strength to go in that house to attempt to save her," said a family member.

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Friday, December 23, 2022
Mother died trying to save young daughter in Downey apartment fire
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A mother in Downey died trying to save her 12-year-old daughter from a fire that ripped through their apartment earlier this week: "She took every bit of strength to go in that house to attempt to save her."

DOWNEY, Calif. (KABC) -- A mother in Downey died trying to save her 12-year-old daughter from a fire that ripped through their apartment earlier this week, according to family members.

Now, as investigators work to determine the cause, a heartbroken family is having a difficult time accepting their new reality.

"She took every bit of strength to go in that house to attempt to save her," said Jonathan Gardilcic, who lost his sister and his niece. "I wish I could've been here to help."

The fire started late Tuesday night near the area of Dinsdale Street and Tweedy Lane, according to the Downey Fire Department. When firefighters arrived on scene, they found one of the garages and living rooms engulfed in flames.

Authorities said the mother, who was identified by family members as Vanessa Kaimimoku, and her 12-year-old daughter, Kayla Kaimimoku Diaz, were upstairs when the fire broke out.

The mother was pronounced dead on scene and Kayla died the following day.

The young girl's grandmother was also injured in the fire and is recovering in the ICU after a neighbor rescued her from the flames. Family members said they're grateful to those who helped.

"Thank you so much," said Gardilcic. "If it wasn't for you, my mother would probably be in a worst condition."

Crews said it was difficult to find the victims trapped inside because the smoke was so thick.

"Conditions inside of the structure, they reported zero visibility and high heat on the second floor," said Battalion Chief Jorge Villanueva.

Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire.

Meanwhile, people have been stopping by the apartment to drop off flowers, cards and toys to honor the mother and daughter. On Thursday, dozens of children from a nearby school where Kayla was a student showed up to honor their classmate.

A tearful Gardilcic said he's grateful for the community's support.

"I miss you, we all love you, all of our love is still here for you. I hope you can feel it and hear it," he said.

No other apartment units were damaged by the flames.

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe has been set up to help the family during this time.

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