2 teens charged in deadly California library fire that killed at least one firefighter

Joshua Yeager, Sheyanne N Romero and James Ward, Visalia Times-Delta
A "large fire" consumed the Porterville Library Tuesday evening.
A "large fire" consumed the Porterville Library Tuesday evening.

PORTERVILLE, Calif. — Two 13-year-olds have been arrested and booked on suspicion arson and manslaughter charges in a deadly fire on Tuesday that destroyed the Porterville Library.

Tuesday’s blaze started shortly after 4 p.m. and killed one firefighter and left another missing.

The man killed has been identified as Fire Capt. Raymond Figueroa, 35. He started with the department in 2007. Additionally, firefighter Patrick Jones, 25, is still missing. He’s been with the department since 2017.

The teens have been booked in the Tulare County Juvenile Detention Center.

Tulare County Fire Capt. Joe Rosa is leading the arson investigation. Fresno City Fire is also lending its K9 to help with the investigation and recovery.

Porterville is about 30 miles southeast of Visalia and 150 miles north of Los Angeles.

Porterville Library caught fire on Tuesday, February 18, 2020.
Porterville Library caught fire on Tuesday, February 18, 2020.

Fire crews from Tulare County and Porterville were called to Main Street and Thurman Avenue where the library was ablaze, just steps from City Hall and the fire department. The 1953 building was deemed historic by the city.

There were no sprinklers inside. A library full of books also presented challenges for first responders.

“Typical a library of this size and magnitude has a significant fuel load,” Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman said.

Witnesses said there was heavy black smoke and "fireballs" shooting from the windows as firefighters doused the flames from all angles.

City Librarian Vikki Cervantes is "heartbroken" from the "devastating loss" her community faces as the library she headed for more than 25 years went up in flames.

There are roughly 77,000 books housed in the library, Cervantes said.

"My heart is in my stomach right now," the Porterville native said as she watched the tragic scene unfold from a safe distance.

Cervantes’ staff called 911 as soon as they noticed the fire in the children’s section of the library. The library, located in the heart of downtown, is surrounded by at least four schools.

"Porterville is resilient," she said. "We are a strong community and we will come together to figure out the next steps."

This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: Porterville, California library fire: Teens charged in deadly fire