MEXICO CITY – Flames engulfed a day care center in northern Mexico on Friday, killing at least 29 children and injuring dozens as neighbors and teachers ran through thick, black smoke to pull preschoolers from the blaze, officials said.
The fire may have started at a tire and car warehouse Friday afternoon and spread to the neighboring ABC day care center in the city of Hermosillo, said Jose Larrinaga, a spokesman for Sonora state investigators. But Larrinaga added that the cause of the fire and exactly where it started were still under investigation.
The fire was controlled within two hours and most children died of asphyxiation, he said.
Guadalupe Ayala, coordinator of Red Cross rescue workers, said there were about 100 children in the day care at the time. Their ages ranged from six months to five years.
"Firefighters had to knock holes in the walls to get the children," he said.
Sonora Gov. Eduardo Bours said five day care workers and 26 children were hospitalized, according to the government news agency Notimex.
The Hermosillo newspaper El Imparcial had photos on its Web site of parents crying and rushing to the center where they had left their children hours earlier. Neighbors rushed to the burning day care to rescue children as teachers ran screaming through black smoke.
President Felipe Calderon said in a statement that the Mexican Social Security Institute, which outsourced services to the ABC day care center, has sent 15 doctors with experience treating burn victims to Hermosillo, along with three air ambulances, breathing devices and medicine.
Calderon said he has also ordered Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora to start an investigation.
Most of the city's police and public safety chiefs were at a meeting with U.S. counterparts in Tucson when they were notified of the fire and returned immediately, Larrinaga said.