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Friends can't believe fire that destroyed home was act of arson

December 29, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

As El Centro police and firefighters continued to investigate an arson that left a 75-year-old woman in critical condition and destroyed her home, friends of the woman said Friday they were surprised to hear that someone set the blaze on purpose.

Those interviewed said the woman, whom they identified as Maria Hoyas, was well-known and well-liked among neighbors in and around the 700 block of Brighton Avenue.

They said Hoyas had lived at the house on Brighton for more than 20 years, adding her 14-year-old great-grandson lived with her.

It was about 2 a.m. Thursday that fire erupted at her home.

While her great-grandson managed to escape through his bedroom window, Hoyas was unable to make it out of the house.

When El Centro firefighters arrived, they were greeted by the great-grandson, who shouted that his great-grandmother was still inside the house.

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Firefighters rushed into the blaze and found her in her bedroom, not breathing. Fire crews carried her from the house and managed to resuscitate her.

She has remained in critical condition at El Centro Regional Medical Center since then, suffering from severe smoke inhalation.

Her great-grandson was not injured and is staying with other family members.

Fire officials said there were several points of origin on the exterior of the house where the fire was ignited, leading authorities to conclude the cause was arson.

Authorities have conducted interviews and are continuing to follow leads, but there aren't many, according to El Centro police Lt. Tim Blankenship.

Still, he said the investigation will continue.

On Friday, a reporter visited the remains of the home Hoyas had lived in for more than two decades. It is a small wooden house, painted in bright yellow.

At the back of the home, nothing remains but a charred frame. The front of the house remains intact, but burn marks indicate the damage inside.

Friends and neighbors said they are praying for Hoyas, adding she is a good person who did not deserve to be the victim of such a crime.

All those interviewed declined to give their names.

One neighbor said she would chat with Hoyas on a regular basis.

"For me, this is weird," said the neighbor. "She is a really nice person. She would talk to everybody. She had a lot of friends."

One such friend, who lives close to Hoyas, said she is concerned for her friend.

"I think my best friend has gone away," said the woman, who added Hoyas is a "very good woman."

Two other neighbors, who said they have been friends with Hoyas since they moved into the neighborhood, walked by the house Friday afternoon to see the damage.

One neighbor, pointing to a number of plants in front of the house — all untouched by the fire — said Hoyas' hobby is to care for the plants.

"It's just so sad," said the other neighbor.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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