‘I thought I was go­ing to die.’ Fire hits high-rise

Antelope Valley Press - - NEWS - By BRIAN MELLEY and STE­FANIE DAZIO

LOS AN­GE­LES — Fire­fight­ers made a dra­matic lad­der res­cue of a man about to jump from a burn­ing Los An­ge­les apart­ment build­ing on Wed­nes­day and he­li­copters plucked peo­ple from the roof of the 25-story high-rise as other ter­ri­fied res­i­dents fled through smoke-choked stair­wells to safety.

Six peo­ple were hos­pi­tal­ized, in­clud­ing a 3-month-old. The would-be jumper, a 30-year-old man, was cling­ing to a build­ing ledge “due to the in­tense heat” from the burn­ing apart­ment next to him and was hos­pi­tal­ized in crit­i­cal con­di­tion, fire Capt. Erik Scott said at an evening news con­fer­ence.

Fire­fight­ers per­formed CPR on an­other 30-year-old man who was taken to the hospi­tal in grave con­di­tion, Scott said, adding that he had no up­date on his con­di­tion.

In ad­di­tion, two fire­fight­ers re­ceived minor burns as, us­ing bot­tled oxy­gen, they scram­bled to reach the apart­ment where the blaze be­gan.

“These fire­fight­ers were lit­er­ally driven to their bel­lies half­way through that hall­way,” Scott said.

The fire erupted in a build­ing that lacked fire sprin­klers and had an­other fire seven years ago. How­ever, it passed a fire in­spec­tion in June, Scott said.

While the fire was con­fined to a sin­gle floor, the whole multi-story build­ing was red-tagged as un­safe be­cause of dam­age and elevators and fire pro­tec­tion sys­tem not work­ing, Scott said.

All 339 res­i­dents wouldn’t be al­lowed back into their homes un­til at least this morn­ing, ex­cept with fire­fighter es­corts to re­trieve crit­i­cal med­i­ca­tions, Scott said.

The build­ing owner rented blocks of ho­tel rooms to house them, he added.

Res­i­dents de­scribed a fright­en­ing flight to safety, as they tried to move down crowded stair­wells that forced some to turn back and go to the roof. Fire­fight­ers were com­ing up the stairs as peo­ple with chil­dren, pets and the some el­derly ten­ants moved slowly down­ward.

A pan­icked Ce­cilee Mathieson tried to push past in her rush from her pent­house. When she reached the floor on fire, she could see the or­ange glow un­der the door.

“I re­ally thought I was go­ing to die today,” Mathieson said hours later.

Fire­fight­ers had been at an of­fice build­ing fire two blocks away when the blaze broke out on Wil­shire Boule­vard on the edge of the tony Brent­wood sec­tion of the city, al­low­ing a rapid re­sponse.

Gavyn Straus was swim­ming in the pool in the court­yard when he saw black smoke waft by. As the smoke grew rapidly, Straus knew it was no kitchen fire and he ran into the build­ing drip­ping wet to alert staff.

A woman at the front desk was calling po­lice, so he hopped on an el­e­va­tor with a main­te­nance man to alert res­i­dents on the eighth floor, where they thought the fire was com­ing from. A man who had been sleep­ing an­swered the first door they pounded on and they re­al­ized they were above the blaze and ran for the stairs.

They were over­whelmed with smoke when they opened the door to the burn­ing floor be­low.

“It was a black wall,” Straus said hours later as he stood bare­foot on the side­walk, still wear­ing his surf trunks with only a towel draped over his shoul­ders and gog­gles around his neck. “Some­one ran out from that side and they were com­pletely cov­ered in black char and they could barely breathe.”

The per­son said their friend was still in­side, but Straus said he couldn’t help be­cause he couldn’t see any­thing and it was too hot.

In­stead, he ran to the 21st floor, where he lives, to alert friends and other ten­ants he knew. No alarm had yet been sounded and he was sur­prised to hear laugh­ter com­ing through the doors as peo­ple ate break­fast un­aware of the danger be­low.

“Get out, there’s fire. Get out,” he yelled. More than 330 fire­fight­ers re­sponded and it took about 90 min­utes to knock down the blaze, Deputy Fire Chief Ar­mando Ho­gan said.

The fire left win­dows blown out and heavy black smoke or burn marks on three sides of build­ing. Res­i­dents who fled in what­ever they wear­ing or could quickly get into — some in pa­ja­mas and ex­er­cise clothes — gath­ered on nearby street cor­ners and looked up as he­li­copters hov­ered and hoisted rooftop evac­uees and a small white dog to safety.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A 25-story high-rise apart­ment build­ing in Los An­ge­les shows signs of fire and smoke dam­age Wed­nes­day. Fire­fight­ers res­cued ter­ri­fied res­i­dents from the rooftop af­ter a fire broke out on a sixth-floor bal­cony and sent chok­ing smoke bil­low­ing through the up­per lev­els.

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