LOS ANGELES (AP) — Firefighters made a dramatic ladder rescue of a man who appeared about to jump from a burning Los Angeles apartment building on Wednesday and helicopters plucked people from the roof of the 25-storey high-rise as other terrified residents fled through smoke-choked stairwells to safety.
Seven people were hospitalised, including a three-month-old. A 30-year-old man, who was clinging to a building ledge “due to the intense heat” from the burning apartment next to him and who appeared ready to jump until firefighters calmed him down, was hospitalised in critical condition, Fire Captain 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.
The fire erupted in a building that lacked fire sprinklers and had another fire seven years ago. However, it passed a fire inspection last June, Scott said.
While the fire was confined to a single floor, the whole multi-storey building was red-tagged as unsafe because of damage and elevators and fire protection system not working, Scott said.
All 339 residents weren’t allowed back into their homes until yesterday 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 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 8th floor, where they thought the fire was coming from.
A man who had been sleeping answered the first door they pounded on and they realised 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.”
More than 330 firefighters responded and it took about 90 minutes to knock down the blaze, Deputy Fire Chief Armando Hogan said. Fire officials said the building was not equipped with sprinklers.
It was built in 1961 before regulations required fire-suppression systems in buildings taller than 75 feet. The building owners did not immediately return messages seeking comment.