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 pre-schoolers from the blaze, officials said.
The fire apparently started at tire depot on 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. There were about 100 children in the day care at the time.
Larrinaga said the fire was controlled within two hours and that most children died of asphyxiation. "We're still investigating what caused the fire and where exactly it started," Larrinaga said.
Guadalupe Ayala, coordinator of Red Cross rescue workers, said the children ranged from six months to five years old. "Firefighters had to knock holes in the walls to get the children," he said.
The Hermosillo newspaper El Imparcial had photos on its website 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.
The injured were taken to at least five hospitals. 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 US counterparts in Tucson when they were notified of the fire and returned immediately, Larrinaga said.