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Authorities investigate fatal California limo fire

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Authorities searched for answers Monday in the fire that roared through a stretch limo packed with women on a girls' night out, hoping to learn what sparked the blaze and why five of the victims could not escape the fast-spreading flames.

The women who were killed were found pressed up against the partition behind the driver, apparently because smoke and fire kept them from the rear exits of the extended passenger compartment.

The position of the bodies suggested they were trying to get away from the fire, said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault. His office planned to begin autopsies later Monday.

The women were celebrating the wedding of a newlywed friend when the rear portion of the Lincoln Town Car went up in flames Saturday night on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge over San Francisco Bay. The driver and four women were able to escape. The newlywed was among the dead.

The driver, Orville Brown, 46, of San Jose, said at first he misunderstood what one of the passengers in the back was saying when she knocked on the partition between the passenger area and the driver and complained about smelling smoke.

With the music turned up, he initially thought the woman was asking if she could smoke. Seconds later, he said, the women knocked again, this time screaming, "Smoke, smoke!" and "Pull over," Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle.

He helped the four survivors escape through the partition. One of the women ran around to a rear passenger door, but by then the vehicle was engulfed in flames.

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