Firefighters Died While Extinguishing Blaze in 2016 — and Woman Who Set Fire Is Guilty of Murder

Lt. Christopher Leach, Sr.; Firefighter Jerry Fickes; Sr. Firefighter Ardythe Hope

A Delaware woman faces a possible life sentence after she pleaded guilty Tuesday to setting a house fire that caused the death of three responding firefighters.

Beatriz Fana-Ruiz, 30, pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, first-degree arson and first-degree assault in the 2016 deaths of Wilmington firefighters Chris Leach, Ardythe Hope, and Jerry Fickes.

Hope, who was four months from retirement, died three months later from injuries she sustained in the fire.

Another firefighter, Brad Speakman, was injured in the blaze but survived.

Prosecutors said Fana-Ruiz used body spray and a lit piece of paper to set her stepmother’s dollhouse on fire.

“She was unhappy with her living arrangements,” Deputy Attorney General John Downs tells PEOPLE. “She was living in the basement of the house, and this was just an act of her anger and frustration.”

Downs says Fanta-Ruiz’s stepmother was in the home along with seven others at the time of the blaze.

Beatriz Fana-Ruiz

On Sept. 24, 2016, Wilmington firefighters responded to a 911 call about a blaze at the Canby Park row home at about 3 a.m.

Firefighters rushed into the burning home after hearing an erroneous report that someone was trapped inside.

“They had information and went in there to try and find out what was going on,” Downs says. “As the firefighters were in there the floor collapsed.”

Fickes and other firefighters rushed in to to save them. Fickes was dragging Leach out when another part of the floor collapsed around him.

“They were going in to try and rescue people, and they are in trouble, and other firefighters are going in to try and rescue them,” says Downs. “Two separate acts and extremely heroic in how these people did their jobs.”

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The blaze was put out in 30 to 40 minutes, and gutted Fana-Ruiz’s home and damaged two neighboring row homes.

According to prosecutors, Fana-Ruiz initially told investigators that she had been drinking and taking Xanax the night of the fire but denied starting the blaze. Four days later, she allegedly confessed.

Fana-Ruiz’s defense attorneys declined to comment to PEOPLE.

After the sentencing, Speakman, who spent more than a month in the hospital, told the Delaware News Journal that the plea will “never bring anyone back.”

“I’m going to try to forget her name and forget all about her,” he said.

Sentencing for Fana-Ruiz is scheduled for Dec. 6.

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