The coroner is waiting to notify the next-of-kin and has not released the names of the victims. The fire department says they were a man and a woman in their early 30s. The building manager says the woman's family was from out-of-state and a neighbor says the female victim's first name was "Samantha."
Fire officials say the damage suggests the fire was burning for as long as a half-hour before the neighbors' smoke alarm went off and they called 9-1-1 around 3:30 a.m. "The neighbors who called 9-1-1 had a working smoke detector which woke them up in the middle of the night. They then went outside, saw that there was the fire at the unit next door, that it was fairly well progressed at that point," Contra Costa County Fire Department Capt. Robert Marshall told ABC7 News.
Those same neighbors also pounded on doors to alert others to get out, but it was too late for the couple in the unit where the fire started. Fire officials say their bodies were found upstairs and it appeared they had tried to escape. They also said the fire started downstairs. "We've been trying to locate smoke detectors. We haven't been able to do so, so far. In any case, even if they were present, we're confident they weren't working," Marshall said.
Neighbor Sara Thomas says she thought the woman victim worked a night-shift job. "I think she was a nighttime and so when I found out that it was her unit on fire this morning, I was praying to God that she wasn't home and that was not the case," she said.
Thomas was among the 60 people who had to leave their apartments to stay with friends, family, or in hotels, with Red Cross assistance. No one knows how long it will be before they can get back into their apartments. "People have to go to work still and you can only grab things and shove them in a bag or backpack. And your food is in the refrigerator, but you have no power and you're going oh my gosh, am I going to lose all those groceries," she said.
The fire department says its inspection records from March show that the building manager did a visual check confirming that smoke detectors were in the unit where the fire started, but the fire investigation is still open.