McFarland: 20 people living in house that burned

McFARLAND, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) An extended family of 20 was left homeless when their rental unit on the 200 block of San Pedro Street in McFarland went up in flames early Sunday morning. The house was occupied by 20 family members, including 12 children and eight adults.

"I grabbed the children and my family and got them out," said Francisco Benito, one of the adults living at the home.

The 20 family members were sharing a house consisting of three bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom. The extended family consisted of three couples with children and two other adults. But, McFarland city officials said the house was not suitable for that many people.

"It's a quality of life issue," said Dennis McNamara, McFarland planning director. "There's rodent infestation, vermin from all the mattresses, the bedding from all that."

On top of that, it's a violation of the city's housing code. If two people share a bedroom, city code requires it be at least 70 square feet. Where more than two persons occupy a room used for sleeping purposes, the required floor area shall be increased at a rate of 50 square feet for each occupant in excess of two, according to city code.

"So, if there's 20 people, the math is roughly like 2,000 square feet, and the house was not that size," said McNamara.

But, it's not uncommon for families to double up and move in with other families, especially during the summer harvest season. Benito, for example, was doing just that. He and his family of five came to McFarland and were staying with other family members at the house on San Pedro when the fire broke out. Benito is currently working for a local grower and has two weeks left to work, he said.

The 20 family members were provided with emergency housing by the Red Cross and were housed at a motel in Delano for two nights. But, after Monday night, the family has to find a place to live, and so far had not yet secured a home.

Planning director McNamara said the city will contact the landlord to try and determine why 20 people were living at the home. According to the Kern County Fire Department, the cause of the fire was electrical.