The fire that cut through the Cajon Street home just after midnight on June 1 did so without warning, ultimately claiming the lives of two boys and their father, Gabriel Pineda.

San Bernardino County Fire Department officials said there were no smoke detectors in the home.

"Working smoke alarms save lives. It's been a proven fact," North Desert Division Chief Tim Wessel said Friday. "From the National Fire Protection Association, they estimate 94 percent of US homes have at least one working smoke detector. Since the 1970s when they started really pushing the smoke alarms, the death rates from fires have been reduced by half."

Smoke detectors actually alert residents to the biggest danger from fires, which isn't the fire itself.

"When they die in a fire, they're not dying from burning. They die long before that. They die from smoke inhalation, from the poisonous gases" released by burning materials, he said. "So by having working smoke alarms, that's how you get that early warning to get people out of the house. ... The technology on these continue to improve every year. So they get better and better."

The deaths of the 9 and 4-year-old Pineda boys hit Wessel's firefighters especially hard, Wessel said.

"Most of us are married. We have kids. And it changes your whole outlook on calls when you become a parent. So when you run on these calls that involve kids with injuries or fatalities, it affects you in a completely different way than when you're a young single fireman," he said. "Those calls still bother you, but within a day, you handle it, and you move on. But when you're a parent, that changes it."

The fire department called in peer counselors to help those who responded to the fires, but his firefighters wanted to do something proactive in response to the Pineda family deaths.

"Obviously we can't go into every single house in the city of Hesperia and do inspections," Wessel said. "When we go into a house because we've gone for medical aid, say, it's not uncommon that you'll hear that telltale beep. 'You know what, their smoke detector is beeping, because their battery is out.'"

When that happens, "the engine crew can go out and bring back in the [new] battery," he said. "That's a way that we can try and ensure that the houses we go into have a good, working, functional smoke alarm."

Although smoke detectors are only about $20 each, Wessel said the north desert division is working with local businesses, including Lowe's and Home Depot, to build up a cache of donated smoke detectors to distribute to those who can't afford their own.

He also urges residents to have a fire escape plan, practice it and know where they'll meet outside the house after evacuating.

"People need to be aware that accidents are going to happen," he said. "That smoke alarm helps them to protect something that absolutely cannot be replaced. Your home, your belongings: all of that can be replaced. But you can't replace your family members."

For more information about donating smoke detectors, call 947-8023.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.